Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


This is straight out of Kim Harrison's blog. So if you don't care for her writing or are just in a "bah, humbug" mood you might want to skip this next part.

SnowGet your tissues handy! I’ve got a little gift from me to you today, written long before I found publication and was raw with the need to reach and connect, and short on literary grace. You may have seen this last year, but it still makes me cry.

Angel’s Song
Kim Harrison
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright. . . .
Humming, Kaylin held her coat close against the cold, more from habit than anything else as she dodged through the unseeing, evening shoppers. She was anxious to get home. Her work had seemed to stretch forever today, but finally The Boss had let her go. She couldn’t wait to see her daughter–it had been too long since the entire family had been together.
Slipping at the bus stop, she grasped the door to the bus, just making it on behind two tired women as the doors closed. The sound of their money jingling into the box chimed like bells, and the bus jerked into motion. Kaylin stood where she was, gripping the ceiling support as the gears shifted. Her gaze rove over the heads, looking for acknowledgment she existed. There, at the back where the heat didn’t reach, was a smiling face and a beckoning hand.
Though she didn’t recognize him, Kaylin went to sit with the old man. She smiled shyly, the anticipation of her coming evening prompting her to be more bold than usual. “I’m going home for Christmas,” she said by way of greeting as she jammed her gloves into a pocket.
“First time?” the old man murmured, his brown eyes going sad in memory.
She nodded. “Since my accident. I can hardly wait to see everyone together.” Kaylin put her hands in her lap, glad she couldn’t feel the cold anymore.
The man met her eyes. “See that boy up there?” he said, pointing with his chin. “I’m spending Christmas with him. He’s a college student on his way home. He needs all the help he can get, and my family doesn’t miss me anymore.”
Kaylin bit her lip and fussed with the hem of her coat’s sleeve, uncomfortable with the idea she would eventually be forgotten. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Make the most of the time they remember you. As it’s said, it came to pass.”
She didn’t know what to say. “This is my stop,” she said, glancing out the window to the colored lights.
“Best hurry. The door won’t wait for you.”
Giving him a hesitant smile, she hastened to the front, edging to the sidewalk past the three girls giggling about the presents they had gotten for their boyfriends.
Kaylin’s mood went soft as she took in the familiar street gray with twilight. The curb was jammed with cars. A noisy, joyful reunion on her front steps had the dogs barking. Excitement tingling to her toes, Kaylin waited on the walk, following the last of the children inside.
Her shoulders eased as she stood in the entryway, basking in the cheerful clutter and the too-noisy greetings. She waved as she spotted her grandmother in a corner, deep in the thick of it. The old woman’s eyes sparkled as they met hers. Her fingertips again had a rosy glow, and the blue tint Kaylin remembered was gone.
“Jasmine is in the kitchen!” her grandmother called over the noise. “Go on. We’ll talk later.”
Relieved her grandmother understood, Kaylin followed the smell of heated punch into the kitchen. She stopped in the open doorway as her heart clenched.
Jasmine stood on a chair before the counter, stirring a cup of green frosting. “I can’t do it, Daddy,” she complained, her high voice clear over the excited babble of relatives. “It’s too hard.”
Kaylin’s hands reached out, but she stood unmoving, forcing back the unexpected tears as her husband set aside his dishcloth and went to their daughter.
“Mommy always helped me, Daddy,” the child said around a sniff as his hand covered hers atop the spoon and they stirred together. “I want Mommy. I miss her.”
“Hush,” he said, the pain in his voice causing Kaylin’s throat to tighten. “I miss her too, sweetheart, but look. She’s everywhere, especially tonight.” Eyes bright, the man pointed to the dusty Christmas candles Kaylin had refused to burn, sitting on the kitchen windowsill. “There are her candles, right where she always put them. And the mistletoe above the doorway? She made that just last year. And the bow? Remember her spending an hour on that to get it to look just like the one in the store window? And you can smell her touch in the gingerbread men and taste it in the fruit punch. She’s everywhere.”
“No, Daddy,” the small girl protested. “It’s not the same. I can’t see her at all.”
“But I can,” he said, giving her a hug. “I can see her in you when you cut out your star cookies, I watched her hand move yours when you hung the ornaments on the tree, and I can see her eyes when I look at you. So, Jasmine, she is here.”
“I can’t see her,” Jasmine said, sniffing as she licked the frosting from a finger.
Kaylin ached. The Boss had warned her it would be hard, and she thought she could handle it. But this? This tore at her. Kaylin came close to stand behind her daughter and nudged a cookie, as if she could make the star any less lopsided. Perhaps . . . . Perhaps she could pretend.
And so she was a silent participant, each moment harder than the previous, a bittersweet mix of memories. She hovered in the kitchen while dinner was prepared, blowing on the gravy to keep it from boiling over until someone remembered it. She watched the rolls brown through the oven window with Jasmine, admonishing the child they weren’t done yet when Jasmine pronounced them finished. She stood in the archway to the living room and worried about the carpet as paper plates overflowing with food were balanced on knees. She sat at the kitchen table while the dishes were washed, catching up on the women’s gossip with her fingers curved around a forgotten cup until it was whisked away.
And then it was done. Kaylin knew the signs: the last swallows of coffee, the slowing conversation, the children collapsing in their mother’s arms. Kaylin sighed. She didn’t want it to be over.
Jasmine was slumped in her frills and white stockings in her father’s arms, too sleepy to be anything but content. Kaylin sat on the arm of the couch beside them, running her fingers unfelt over her daughter’s hair. There was one final tradition as yet undone, her most cherished part of the evening, and Kaylin’s heart fell when the first of the coats appeared. They had forgotten.
“Wait, Daddy.” Jasmine stirred as her father rose to say his good-byes. “We didn’t sing yet. Mommy always sings. Please?”
Kaylin waited, hoping.
“Of course, Jasmine,” her father said, giving her a hug. “You’re such a clever girl for remembering.”
Coats were dropped to the couch in the sliding sound of nylon. Her grandmother beckoned, and Kaylin joyfully edged closer to the piano. Jasmine wiggled down to sit on the long bench before the battered keys, her father standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Kaylin could see a glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes as she took Kaylin’s usual spot before the piano and began to play.
“Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Tears pricked at Kaylin’s eyes. Her favorite. Voice quavering, she joined her voice to her family’s.
“Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild.”
“Daddy,” Jasmine whispered, her face upturned as she pulled on his sleeve. “I can hear Mommy singing.”
Kaylin’s throat nearly closed, and tears slipped down her cheeks. Angels could sing. And on Christmas Eve, they could be heard by those who listened.
Her husband knelt and gave Jasmine a tight, fierce hug. “So can I, sweetheart,” he whispered, rocking her. “So can I.”
“Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hommlet Revisited

The group has been continuing on with the ToEE. Thus far there have been at least one to two characters per player turnover.  But their luck seems to be changing for the better the last few sessions. The party has thus far survived several serious assassination attempts and all out guerilla strikes by several factions. They have been getting a ton of experience between all of the fights and loot. There is some serious wealth and magic in the temple. Needless to say time in game has been flying along. Though they have yet to discover it while they've been busy inside the temple events in the world around them have been moving along at a rapid clip as well. Hommlet has undergone some serious changes from the raids by the ToEE and is in the process of trying to rebuild a stronger version of itself to survive the onslaught. The following map has been lifted from the Oerth Journal #10 pg. 59. Original cartography by Scott Knowles and Nathan Irving with modifications by me.

after map by Dave Sutherland

For a view of the original quaint little village go to this earlier post.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The results seem quite logical...

Your results:

You are Spock
You are skilled in knowledge and logic. You believe that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Will Riker
Jean-Luc Picard
Geordi LaForge
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Mr. Sulu
Deanna Troi
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Mr. Scott
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Beverly Crusher

Click here to take the "Which Star Trek character are you?" quiz...

Took this quiz and to be honest I'm not really surprised overall and pretty pleased to note that my "red shirt" status is rather low on the list.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Temple of Elemental Evil - level 3

After a year long hiatus the group has gotten back together with a new player on board and they are picking up where they left off in the Temple of Elemental Evil. They are starting to get the idea that this place is dangerous, and now almost all of the players are playing 2 characters. So with the added NPCs the party is now 9 strong. This was all that saved them from being wiped the last couple of sessions. That and the fact that they are now middling levels.

This is the current player handout map of the of the infamous Temple of Elemental Evil for the 3rd level. For those wondering, the top portion with Zuggtmoy was not given to the players initially.

 As noted previously to anyone actually planning on playing/running this module these maps have been edited from the original TSR module maps. They do not contain many of the secret/concealed doors/rooms or traps illustrated on the original maps. Its one thing not to make the players actually map because of time/willingness constraints it's quite another to totally give away everything on the map. They still have to explore and find out the many surprises of the temple the good old fashioned way.

For ToEE level 1 player's map.

For ToEE level 2 player's map .

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hobbit 75th Anniversary

I missed the actual date (computer troubles) but since I'm such a huge Tolkien fan I couldn't let this slide. So better late then never. Courtesy of Wired.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) didn’t live long enough to witness modern video games, or play Dungeons & Dragons, or even to see his works turned into movies. But as The Hobbit proved popular, and Lord of the Rings (published in 1954 and 1955) later became underground hits in the 1960s, it was clear his vision of Middle-earth had struck a chord. “Frodo Lives” and “Gandalf for President” slogans began to appear on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons. Fan clubs sprang up. As readers began writing him, pestering him for details, noting discrepancies in his universe, and wondering when he’d write the next installment, he began to see how fans could get sucked into his world.
While Tolkien was said to be secretly pleased by how devoted his audience had become, the attention also made him uneasy. He named his readership “my deplorable cultus.” He knew fantasy could be dangerous — a “vast game,” he once wrote to his publisher about his writings, which could be “fatally attractive.” Even to himself.
The reclusive British scholar, lexicographer, and Oxford don was, in a way, the original geek. He specialized in the rather mundane field of philology (the history of languages). Most authors of the early twentieth century were busy smashing Victorian conventions and reassembling the pieces into irony-laden Modernism.
Not Tolkien.
An amateur writer, he didn’t even read contemporary fiction. He eschewed the modern world. He had founded literary clubs with archaic names: the TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), the Kolbitars society (so named because they sat so close to the fire they virtually bit the coals), and the Inklings. C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series, was also an Inklings member. Tolkien hung out with these fellow egghead, Middle Ages-minded pals in pubs, where they drank ale, smoked pipes, and made up stories by firelight.
The Hobbit was published 75 years ago today, on September 21, 1937.
The Hobbit was published 75 years ago today, on September 21, 1937.
To Tolkien the medievalist, Icelandic sagas and 
thousand-year-old poems like Beowulf were the finest literature ever written. Domineering dragons and world-weary wizards seemed perfectly legitimate characters for twentieth-century fiction. That’s why The Hobbit made sense. And why it worked. Tolkien wasn’t bowing to literary fashion, he was geeking out on his own passion. He didn’t worry whether his novels were seen as high art or bedtime story; in fact, he was doubtful his creations would have any appeal beyond his children and Oxford colleagues like C. S. “Jack” Lewis. Surrounded by those who didn’t get it, Tolkien was ridiculed. “How is your hobbit?” his colleagues mocked. Despite peer pressure, Tolkien remained undaunted.
The Professor felt compelled to invent legends because, he believed, Britain lacked its own, true, homegrown mythology. With The Hobbit and Rings, all Tolkien wanted, he once said, was to “open the door on Other Time” and “stand . . . outside time itself.” He succeeded.
Because the fantasy genre is well established today, and so  lucrative for entertainment, we forget there was a time when the heroic fantasy was not pop culture’s go-to genre.
In retrospect, what Tolkien accomplished seemed minor. One book. But he was a trailblazer. He wrote fantasy when few others did. Most of his stories were epic in length and told in a lofty language. (The Hobbit was one of his few works not aimed for an adult audience.) Their plots unfolded over a span of many years and often put ordinary characters — like Bilbo and Frodo — in extraordinary circumstances that involved magic, battles, strange creatures, and evil forces. Their quests restored some primal balance to the world.
Of course, with The Hobbit, Tolkien did not invent the genre. But, reviving its rules for the 20th century, he  hit the literary jackpot. Right author, right time. No one could have predicted how well his heroic, romantic, high fantasy would catch on.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Temple of Elemental Evil [free PDF] and Errata

Quick Note - Temple of Elemental Evil (free now 'till 9/28)

As +Moe Tousignant has already mentioned over on Google+ the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1ed module Temple of Elemental Evil is free for the next week and a half. This module is an all time classic. Granted there are lots of typos and errors within the module itself, it still remains one of the iconic mega-modules. I'm running it for a group right now that hasn't had the pleasure of exploring it yet. So grab a copy and relive the glory days, or better yet make some new ones.

T1-4 : Temple of Elemental Evil*** ERRATA ***

Sources : Dragonsfoot forums, Doomsday forums, Gary Gygax, Frank Mentzer
FR = french version
ENG= english version

Errata #1 (typo)  FR & ENG
If the bronze doors in area 145 (Dungeon Level One) are sundered, the stairs therein descend south to this room. However, entry is blocked by another set of like doors, set in the north wall of this area.

Correction :
145 leads up to 7 in the upper Temple.
148 leads down to the northern doors in 210.

Errata #2   FR & ENG
As discussed earlier, and elsewhere, Gary had a major change in direction while developing this adventure. His original plan to use Lolth was scrapped, and Zuggtmoy was created as her replacement. Some references to Lolth appeared in the published adventures, but all such references should be considered editing errors. Both Lareth and Falrinth should be played as followers of Zuggtmoy.

Errata #3 (room 210)   FR & ENG
Basically, the description of Room 210 (The Air Temple) is hard for me to make sense of. In the center of the area is said to be a “great pierced square of bronze, ten feet on a side.” Pierced by what? Is it sitting on the floor of the chamber, or is it a cube suspended in the true “center” of the area, pierced by support beams?
I believe the bronze square thing is a sort of hanging wind chime, a draft from the shaft could whistle through holes in it (thus pierced) to make an eerie sound. However, it should be circular as squares are not an Air Temple symbol.

In fact, this entire section is fubared in its use of symbols. Every time you see the word "square" associated with the Air Temple you should change it to "circle" and vice versa when seeing "circle" in regards to the Water Temple. At some point Gary changed his mind or got mixed-up on what symbol was used for these two temples. The proper symbols are: air=circle and water=square.

A dome is said to be “pierced” in the “northern ceiling” of the area, but again it isn’t clear what it’s pierced by. I assume it’s pierced by the 20’ shaft which I know extends down from the well on the Temple’s upper floor. The module says that directly below this shaft is a pit that’s 20’ in diameter and 5’ deep. The map shows this pit being in the exact center of the room, but shouldn’t it be more to the north, since the description says that the dome with the shaft is in the “northern ceiling”?
The opening in the dome and the pit below it should be on the northern area (10' south of the doors). That, of course interferes with the stairs to the north doors. My guess is the map is incorrect which is consistent with the generally shoddy map work for the module. Perhaps there were to be no steps before the bronze doors and an overzealous cartographer added the stairs to the north for symmetry and then needed to center the pit to get it out of the way.

Errata #4   FR & ENG
Lareth should be a follower of Zuggtmoy, not Lolth. Gary originally had Lolth as the demoness behind the ToEE, but decided to drop her after the GDQ series.

Errata #5   FR & ENG
One of the big ones in the distance from Hommlet to Nulb. Described as being but 6 miles distant in T1, it ended up about 30 miles away on the T1-4 map. Using the greater distance works better with the Flanaess map, and it prompts more action in Nulb. As presented, Nulb is basically superfluous. It needs a lot of development to use. Use the shorter distance if you’d prefer less work.

Errata #6   ENG
Pg. 11: Under encounter 23, the description should read: “A somewhat reclusive farmer, his spinster daughter and son dwell here.”

Errata #7   FR
Pg. 14: Under encounter 31, Burnes’ statistics are missing. They should be: S: 15 I: 17 W: 11 D: 10 C: 15 CH: 12.

Errata #8   ENG
Pg. 14: Under Area 7, the description should read: “…specially prepared mixtures, goose roasted to a golden brown, pork, steaming sausages, steak and kidney pie with mushrooms…”.

Errata #9   ENG
Pg. 19: Under GT 6, the description should read: “(This normal staff bears Nystul’s Magic Aura. A box under the pallet holds three daggers and a score of darts.”

Errata #10   ENG
Pg. 26: Under encounter 35, Lareth’s statistic for intelligence is missing and should be I: 9.  FR = 16

Errata #11   FR & ENG  Reason ? Thrommel being a paladin is Lawful Good ?

Appendix p.126

Fragarach: This hefty steel broadsword bears a mighty enchantment. It was originally fashioned for a deity (Lugh) of elsewhere/elsewhen, and eventually passed into the WORLD OF GREYHAWK™ Setting (Oerth). It served the forces of good well for a short time, all too soon falling into the hands of the minions of Chaotic Evil. It has been in their grasp for more than a decade, resting in hiding in The Temple of Elemental Evil, guarded by the worst of elemental grues. Fragarach means “The Answerer”.
The sword is of Lawful Good alignment. Any Chaotic (Neutral, Evil or Good) creature trying to grasp it takes 1-6 points of damage and falls senseless for 1-10 rounds. A Neutral (True, Good or Evil) creature holding it takes only 1-3 points and swoons for 1-4 rounds. In any Evil hands, Fragarach has no bonus whatsoever; in Lawful Neutral hands, it will strike but one opponent per round. The sword functions perfectly only for a Lawful Good user. In such hands, its +4 bonus (to damage) always operates, and it will strike as many opponents as have struck at its possessor unerringly. Fragarach always hits such targets, the +4 pertaining to additional damage only. If the opponent is of Evil alignment a d20 is rolled, and on a natural 20 such an opponent takes +8 additional points of damage. Note however that “The Answerer” always strikes last in a melee round.
The sword has a hilt of silver and gold wire, most cunningly wrought. Its guard and pommel are set with perfect emeralds (corundum)—7 gems, total value of sword is 65,000 gp. Its scabbard is likewise trimmed with precious metals and decorated with many gems of green and golden hue, worth another 35,000 gp.
G.P. Sale Value: 90,000 (including scabbard value of 35,000 gp)

Errata #12   FR & ENG
Pg. 127: Under the description for “Other Swords of Answering”, drop the one given in the module and use the Unearthed Arcana version (pg. 105).

Errata #13   FR & ENG
Falrinth is an odd one, and I think his character may heve been blurred when Gary handed his notes off to Frank. In the original version of the adventure there was no Zuggtmoy, there was just Lolth. After the D and Q modules Gary decided that he needed to go in a different direction, so he invented Zuggtmoy to replace Lolth. My guess is that Falrinth's description may be the result of Frank trying to make some old notes mesh with the later version of the adventure, unaware that Gary had changed directions and never intended both demon ladies to be involved. If I run the adventure again I will just make him a follower of Zuggtmoy.

Errata #14   ENG
Well, I asked Frank:
"How about this little ToEE mystery:
In area 307. Grotto
Where the leucrotta dwell.
The description states, "note that anyone bearing the "branched staff", described in area 427, commands their respect".
There is no "branched staff" in area 427, or anywhere else. Any ideas?
It sounds like it could be one of the tentacle rods from the D series. Just wondering if this was another reference from the Lolth version that made it in."

His reply:
"Exactly right; good show. I should have twiddled that one, tho, since anyone going thru the D's should have ended up far too high in level to be challenged by the Temple. Gary had written much of ToEE shortly after the D series, so a lot of that was still on his mind."
Doomsday : Assuming that the staff is not a Lolth-connected tentacle rod, but a device of similar magnitide that someone in the Temple hierarchy might possess, who would have it?
Well, if you go the path of least resistance that the leucrotta are recalling a servant of Zuggtmoy specifically. Then perhaps it can be Senshock's staff..

Errata #15   FR & ENG
On page 107 in the second column, it should read "in the dungeon area 339 and in each node,"
Page 98 en bas à gauche pour version FR : remplacer zone 351 par zone 339

Errata #16   ENG
Distance from Hommlett to Nulb is uncertain.
- Player's Background, p.5, says Nulb is 6 miles away.
- Moathouse text p.21 says the moathouse is 1 league from Hommlett and Nulb is 7 leagues further on.
- Interlude, Player's info, p.27, says half a day's jouney on foot (would be about 3-4 leagues).
- Interlude, DM Notes, p. 28, Hommlett is about 30 miles SW of Nulb (10 leagues)
- Overland map has 10-league hexes, making Nulb 7 - 10 leagues from Hommlett.
(But the roads on the map, and the danger markings, are non-sensical with the text descriptions).

Errata #17   ENG
Moathouse Dungeon Level -- The key lists all directions backwards.
North should be south, East should be West, and vice versa. Note the upper level key matches the map.

Errata #18   ENG
Temple, Ruins of Elemental Evil, Exterior Notes, p.36. Thrown down works and razed building are shown on the map by X marks, which are non-existent.

Errata #19   ENG
Temple, A.4. Escape Tunnel, p. 38. This is shown going East on the map. But is described as going West. The position of the tunnel exit should be marked with an X on the area map, somewhere in the woods, but this is no where to be found).

Errata #20   ENG
Temple Interior, C 10, Dais and Throne, p. 42, states that the throne can be commanded to drop to the Greater Temple (area 352). This is wrong on multiple levels. 352 is not the greater temple, and an examination of the map (and corresponding X under the throne on levels 1 and 2) shows it should sink to the throne location in 340 (which is where the following paragraph states that it goes).
This same paragraph also states that the Orb of Golden Death is located in (322), while it is clearly in 338.

Errata #21   ENG
Page 44, clues, Orb of Golden Death (in Appendix D) should read (in Appendix C).

Errata #22   ENG
Page 62, 210, After ten rounds of outpouring smoke, creatures in the pit are transported to the Air Cavern (area 526). This should read (A26) for the air node.

Errata #23   ENG
Page 62, 210a, Drelb is referrenced in Appendix A. New Monsters, but New Monsters are in Appendix B, and the Drelb is not listed among them.
Errata #24   ENG

Errata #24 ENG
Page 69, 225, Kelno's strategy says he will cast Darkness and flee if the battle goes against him, but Darkness is not one of his prepared spells.

Errata #25   ENG
Page 88, 337, South Room, Rules for Falrinth's Familiar should be provided in Appendix D. Appendix D does not exist.

Errata #26   ENG
Page 90, 339, and p 94, 353, Contradictory statements. Can Zuggtmoy enter 339 after the lowest door is sundered, or only after all 4 doors are sundered?

Errata #27   ENG
Page 91, 340, and p 94, 353, Contradictory statements. Can Zuggtmoy enter 340 after the lowest door is sundered, or only after 3 doors are sundered?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Good Graphic Design

From an article in Cartographia. One of the better of examples of a graphic, which while being simple still conveys a wealth of information both visual and quantitative.
I actually have this around somewhere and should dig it up, dust it off and hang it.

Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia

Napoleon Bonaparte began his ill-fated 1812 invasion of the Russian Empire with 422,000 men.  With each step further into Russian territory, more and more soldiers died or deserted.  By the time it reached Moscow, Napoleon’s army had dwindled to 100,000 men–already less than a quarter the size it had been at the start.  During their disastrous retreat out of Russia, temperatures plunged to −37.5 °C.  Nearly half the remaining survivors of the invasion were killed during the botched crossing of the Berezina River.  Of the 422,000 men who set out on the invasion, barely 10,000 of them returned alive.
All this information is readily visible in the chart above, created by the French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard, which ingeniously combined both a map of the campaign and a visual representation of the number of men remaining in Napoleon’s doomed army.  The thickness of the line is proportional to the number of men in the army (one millimeter equalling 10,000 men), with the beige section representing the offensive toward Moscow, and the black line the retreat.  Below, Minard also included a second chart showing the temperature on various days during the retreat (Minard used the Réaumur scale for his temperatures, as was commonplace at the time.  Converted to Celsius, this makes the coldest part of the retreat a whopping −37.5 °C).  For a large view of the chart, click on the picture above.
Although Minard includes a description above his chart, it is almost completely unnecessary; all the pertinent information is readily apparent from a close examination of the chart itself.  Minard was a master at the production of maps such as these that combined tremendous amounts of data with geographic representations.  Edward Tufte, an expert in the visual display of quantitative information, has called this chart “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”  More of Minard’s works will undoubtedly be featured here in time.
It’s also important to note why, on a blog about maps, the first post is in actuality more of a chart.  Although the most striking feature of the chart is the thinning line of soldiers, the map in the background plays an important role, showing the cities and rivers the army traversed on its way into and out of Russia.  This chart demonstrates how, with good planning a design, maps can operate in concert with many other types of information to create stunning displays of information.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Appendix N Resources

This comes courtesy of Wayne Rossi's blog. I just happen to have most of these already, but in case other folks don't or don't follow Wayne's blog here it is:

I've been getting back into some Appendix N type reading lately and wanted to do a purely useful post for anyone who wants to get into "Appendix N" fantasy. I found this list tremendously useful when I was in high school as it pointed me to a lot of great stories that I still love.

Entries where volumes are in (parentheses) are individual books I've added to general names and/or series titles. Where possible I've pointed to in-print books and collections.

I claim no responsibility for any shopping binges you may go on after reading this post.



Brackett, Leigh (The Sword of Rhiannon, The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith, The Reavers of Skaith)

Brown, Frederic (Martians, Go Home, What Mad Universe)

Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Pellucidar" series (At the Earth's Core, Pellucidar, Tanar of Pellucidar, Tarzan at the Earth's Core, Back to the Stone Age, Land of Terror, Savage Pellucidar); Mars series (Princess/Gods/Warlord of Mars, Thuvia/Chessmen/Master Mind/Fighting Man of Mars, Swords/Synthetic Men of Mars, Llana of Gathol, John Carter of Mars, Skeleton Men of Jupiter); Venus series (Pirates of Venus, Lost on Venus, Carson of Venus, Escape on Venus, The Wizard of Venus)

Carter, Lin: "World's End" series (The Warrior of World's End, The Enchantress of World's End, The Immortal of World's End, The Barbarian of World's End, The Pirate of World's End, Giant of World's End)


de Camp & Pratt: "Harold Shea" series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE

Derleth, August (The Cthulhu Mythos)

Dunsany, Lord (In the Land of Time And Other Fantasy Tales (includes Gods of Pegana), The King of Elfland's Daughter)

Farmer, P. J.: "The World of the Tiers" series (Volume 1, Volume 2); et al

Fox, Gardner: "Kothar" series (Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman, Kothar of the Magic Sword, Kothar and the Demon Queen, Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse, Kothar and the Wizard Slayer); "Kyrik" series (Kyrik: Warlock Warrior, Kyrik Fights the Demon World, Kyrik and the Wizard's Sword, Kyrik and the Lost Queen) ; et al

Howard, R. E.: "Conan" series (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, The Conquering Sword of Conan) (Gygax neglected it, but Del Rey has his other work - The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Kull Exile of Atlantis, Bran Mak Morn: the Last King, El Borak and Other Desert Adventures, Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard)

Lanier, Sterling: HIERO'S JOURNEY (The Unforsaken Hiero)

Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series (Swords and Deviltry, Swords Against Death, Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, The Swords of Lankhmar, Swords and Ice Magic, The Knight and Knave of Swords); et al

Lovecraft, H. P. (The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories - these are the Penguin editions with S.T. Joshi's introductions and notes; they are complete and superior versions to the scattered Del Rey books.)

Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al (The Ship of Ishtar)

Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS (link is to recent Del Rey compilation of the original stires; also To Rescue Tanelorn, The Sleeping Sorceress, Duke Elric, Swords and Roses); "Hawkmoon" series (esp. the first three books) (The Jewel in the Skull, The Mad God's Amulet,  The Sword of the Dawn, The Runestaff)

Norton, Andre (Witch World and many others)

Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III

Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al

Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al (Book of Swords)


Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; "Ring trilogy" (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King) (also The Silmarillion)
Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al (Tales of the Dying Earth omnibus)
Weinbaum, Stanley (The Black Flame, The Lotus Eaters, A Martian Odyssey)

Wellman, Manley Wade (Who Fears the Devil?, Battle in the Dawn)

Williamson, Jack (Darker Than You Think, The Humanoids)

Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" series (The Great Book of Amber); et al (The Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Being a Better Roleplayer

Because I liked this article so much I'm re-posting it here.

I have read a LOT of articles online about how to be a good Gamesmaster. It’s something that fascinates me. I get a really good buzz off a game gone well that’s hard to replicate without sex or drugs, and getting hold of those both often involves more effort than I’m willing to put in. I want to get better at running games; I strive towards it. It is a passion. I have read more books on Gamesmastery than I have on, say, the subject of my degree.
But it’s incredibly rare to find an article that teaches you how to play, and surely that’s more common? Surely for every GM there are, on average, four players? There’s this weird disconnect, that the responsibility to entertain lies squarely with the person behind the screen, and that the players just turn up and absorb it. And that’s bollocks, clearly.
So this is a thing I have written, because there is not enough of it online. It is a handful of tips on becoming a better player. I have absorbed and stolen it from a few sources, such as this thread that I started on Reddit and from my friends on Facebook, this video on Improv and Graham Walmsley’s book Playing Unsafe. Thanks to everyone for your wisdom.
A note: I am not perfect! Obviously. Looking at my face would tell you that. But I cannot pretend that I embody all of these things all at once all the time; they’re just advice, I guess, extrapolated from more than my fair share of time spent playing RPGs on both sides of the screen, and looking at players and seeing what I like and what I dislike. Hopefully you can get something useful out of it, if you play a lot of games.

ONE. Do stuff.
Job One for you as a player is to do stuff; you should be thinking, at all times – “What are my goals? And what can I do to achieve them?” You are the stars of a very personal universe, and you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your arse and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.
Investigate stuff. Ask questions. Follow leads. No-one needs you to point out that this is an obvious plot thread while you do it. Mix up scenes, talk to people, get up in their grill. If you’re not playing the sort of character that would do such a thing, find something you can affect, and affect it.
If you keep finding yourself pushed to the back of scenes and twiddling your thumbs – why is such a boring character hanging around with the sort of people that Get Shit Done?
Be active, not passive. If you learn nothing else from this article, bloody learn this.

TWO. Realise that your character does not exist outside of the things you have said.
You can write as many pages of backstory as you like, mate, but they don’t factor in one bit to the game unless you show them happening. Are you a shrewd businessman? Cool. Do some business, shrewdly, in front of everyone else. Are you a hot jazz saxophonist? Play the saxophone. Are you a wild elf struggling through social interactions with civilised people? Struggle through those interactions! Don’t go off and sit in a tree, you prick!
This ties back into the first point, really; you only exist through your actions. It is not the responsibility of other players to read your backstory, and their characters cannot read minds. Well. Some of them can, but you know what I mean. They shouldn’t have to.
So display your talents, your traits, your weaknesses, your connections. Take every opportunity to show, and not tell, the other people at the table what your character is about.

THREE. Don’t try to stop things.
Negating another player’s actions is fairly useless play; it takes two possible story-changing elements and whacks them against each other so hard that neither of them works. For example, your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened. All you’ve done is waste time, and we don’t have infinite supplies of that.
Instead, go with the flow. Build. If the fighter wants to break someone’s nose, what happens after that? Does your monk rush to help the jerk up? To admonish the fighter? To apologise to the jerk’s friends, before shit really kicks off? To save the fighter in the big brawl that ensues, even though he was going against your will? Or to throw the biggest guy in the tavern right at him, to really teach him a lesson? Those are all examples of interesting stories. Stopping him from doing anything whatsoever isn’t.
Don’t negate, extrapolate. (See, that rhymes, so it’s easier to remember)

FOUR. Take full control of your character.
“My character wouldn’t do that” is a boring excuse, a massive NO to the game’s story on a fundamental level. It’s a point-blank refusal to participate.
Instead of being bound by pre-conceived notions of what your character would and would not do, embrace complications and do it, but try to work out why. Why is your Rogue doing this mission for the church? Does he have ulterior motives? Is it out of a sense of companionship with the rest of the party? Characters in uncomfortable situations are the meat and drink of drama.
(Do you remember that great story about that hobbit who told Gandalf to fuck off, and sat at home picking his hairy toes all day before his entire village was swallowed up by the armies of darkness? No. No you bloody don’t. So put on your backpack and get out there, Frodo)
If you keep finding yourself having to explain your actions, or not wanting to go along with group decisions because of your character’s motives… well, sweetheart, maybe your character’s motives are wrong. They’re not written in stone. The group’s the thing, not your snowflake character, and if they’re not working, drop them off at the next village and maybe try playing someone more open to new ideas. Maybe work with the group to build a character that fits in.
Your character is part of the story; this is not your character’s story.

FIVE. Don’t harm other players.
Oh ho, here’s a jolly thief that nicks stuff from the other party members! And their Sleight of Hand roll is so high that no-one will ever notice! Gosh, what a jape.
Fuck that guy. No-one likes that guy. (That guy generally plays Kender, and I am fully of the opinion that Kender should be promptly genocided out of all RPGs. I don’t think genocide is a crime if we’re talking about Kender.) If you steal from other players, you are exerting power over them in a really messy, underhanded sort of way. If they find out, what are they going to do? Are you going to force them to escalate? Is it fair if they kill you for it? Is that fun for them?
Similarly, attacking other players is awful, too. I’m okay with this where systems fully support and encourage this, of course – something like Paranoia or Dogs in the Vineyard – but, Christ guys, give it a rest. I am hard-pressed to think of a way where such a thing improves the game; if your group is fine with it, discuss it beforehand. But keep me out of it.
There are a whole load of things out there to steal from and beat up and kill that won’t get offended when you do it to them, so go bother them first.

SIX. Know the system, don’t be a dick about it.
If you know a system, you are easier to GM for, because you know your character’s limitations. You can calculate the rough odds of a particular action succeeding or failing, just like in real life. You can make prompt assessments of situations and act accordingly, because you understand the rules of the world.
(New players, of course, get a free pass on this one. But do make an effort to learn the rules, obviously, if you’re keen on sticking around in the hobby.)
But for the love of God, don’t rules-lawyer. Do not do that. It is not hard to work out, because here is a simple guide – if you are arguing over a rule for more than twenty seconds, you are a rules lawyer. You are the Health and Safety Inspector of roleplaying games, and you need to stop talking, because you are sucking the fun out of the game.
There are times when the rules are wrong, and that’s fine, but I’m hard-pressed to think of that time the guy remembered the rule and we all laughed and had a great time because he made the GM change it.

SEVEN. Give the game your attention. If you can’t give your full attention, step away from the table.
Hey! What’s that you’re playing, on your phone there? Oh, is it Candy Crush Saga? That’s funny, all these dice and character sheets gave me the impression that we were playing Dungeons and Fucking Dragons, I must be terribly mistaken.
It is hard to think of a way to be more dismissive of someone’s game than playing a different game during it. If you find yourself getting so bored by what’s going on you’re resorting to playing a game on your phone, or reading a book, or checking Facebook, then step away from the game. You are draining the group with your very presence. I would rather have an empty chair than someone who wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t have to entertain an empty chair.
And of course, it’s up to the GM to offer an entertaining game. This is not one-sided. But going back to point one, act whenever you can. Give them something to work with. Unless you’re paying them money to do this, they are under no obligation to dance like a monkey for you just because they’re behind the screen.

EIGHT. If you make someone uncomfortable, apologise and talk to them about it.
I have a rule in my games, and that rule is: “Nothing fucks anything else.” Simple. Clean. Elegant. No sexual conduct; it’s weird, often. I’ve had seduction attempts, obviously, and that’s fine. I’ve had characters deeply affected by rape. I’ve even had someone negotiate time with a skin-thief alien to reanimate a cat for the purposes of sexual pleasure as part of a heist. But, and this is the crucial thing here, nothing fucked anything else “onscreen.” And if you’re thinking, “Ha ha, okay then, but is fisting all right?” then fuck off out my game, sunshine.
And that’s the point; in situations like the ones we find ourselves in on a weekly basis, it’s easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s as blatant as discussing dead babies or bestiality; maybe it’s something much more benign, like being rude or chatting them up in-character.
If you think you might have upset someone, then ask ‘em, quietly. And if you have, apologise, and stop talking about that particular thing. It’s not rocket science; that’s how existing as a functioning social human being works, and somehow because we’re pretending to be a halfling for a bit, we often forget how to do it.
So, you know, be nice. Be extra nice. No-one’s going to think any less of you for it.

NINE. Be a Storyteller.
The World of Darkness books call their GM a Storyteller, because they are very obviously unable to call a spade a spade. But they have a point; a GM is telling stories. It’s easy to forget that the players are doing that too.
So put some effort in, eh? Say some words. Develop a character voice and stance. Describe your actions. Work out a level of agency with the GM so you can chip into wider descriptions, or just make assumptions and describe it and see if it sticks. A good GM should go with what you’re saying, anyway, unless it really goes against their plan.
Similarly, brevity = soul of wit, and all that. A good GM doesn’t monologue, or have their NPCs have long discussions, or make players sit back and watch while their world plays out. So know when to shut up, and to keep your descriptions short – unless you’re an incredible storyteller, of course. But short and punchy is always better than long and flowery.
By jubjubjedi
God, this is an awesome picture. Credit to jubjubjedi on Deviantart

TEN. Embrace failure.
Failure can be embarrassing. I know that I get pretty het up when the dice don’t favour me – when I’ve spent ages waiting to have my turn in a large game, say, or when I’m using some special power, or when I’ve been talking a big talk for a while or described some fancy action – and I use some pretty bad language, too. And not “fun” bad language, like we all do when we’re gaming. Like threatening “is this guy okay” bad.
And that’s not cool. I need to learn to treat failure as a story branch, not a block. Why did I miss? Why didn’t my intimidation roll work? Why didn’t I pick the lock? Why was I seen? Who worked out that I’m the traitor? What other options can I explore?
Some systems build this in by default – Apocalypse World, for example – and they give you the ability to somehow affect the world whenever you roll the dice, not just fail to affect someone’s Hit Points. That’s great! We need to get ourselves into that mindset by default. We need to view failures as setbacks and explain why our character didn’t achieve their goal, and we need to understand that failure is not the end of the world.

ELEVEN. Play the game.
This is a game. This is not a challenge that exists solely in the head of your GM. This is not your character’s personal story arc. This is not your blog. This is not an excuse to chat up one of the other players. This is not a table to sit at in silence. This is a game.
We have signed up to play a game together. We are all telling a story with each other, to each other, and the story comes first. Step back from the heat of combat; step back from your character’s difficult relationship with their half-Drow mother; step back from the way that the Paladin’s player keeps stealing your dice.
This is a game. Respect the other players. Respect the story, and act in service of it. Respect that you will not always get your way, and that not getting your way can be interesting.
Do what is best for the game. Do what is best for the story. Be active! Be positive! Be interesting! Change things! If you can’t walk away at the end of the night with a good memory, with something that you could talk about in the pub in years to come, then everyone at the table has failed.

I think I've been guilty of violating at least two if these rules at various points. The 'give your game your full attention' and 'don't harm other players'. The latter was mostly done in the spirit of fun (some slight thievery when looting bodies) that was later used to the benefit of the party moreso than trying get over anything on other players or trying to get more than the fair share of treasure for the thief PC.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Happy summer solstice

It’s the summer solstice! Longest day of the year. Most people probably don’t notice or care, but if you do you can get a chart of sunrise/set, moonrise/set, twilight data for most locations in the US. If your interested, it’s a great resource. http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.php

And Saturday and Sunday are the supermoon! http://earthsky.org/tonight/is-biggest-and-closest-full-moon-on-june-23-2013-a-supermoon

Friday, May 31, 2013

Alignments in Firefly

This is an old one, but I'm slow sometimes and only saw it recently and I must say it totally clicked for me. For those of you who have already seen this continue on your way.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Iron Man 3

IM3 final from ColliderVideos on Vimeo. Spoiler free
Finally got out to see this, this weekend. After the The Avengers, writer-director Shane Black stepped into a very untenable situation with Iron Man 3.  While he had Robert Downey Jr., still my expectations for the third installment were pretty high.  But even though the cards were stacked against him, I’m happy to report that Iron Man 3 is more or less a success.  Not only is Black’s script very good and funny in spots, he’s also crafted some amazing action set pieces and created a villain that everyone is sure to be talking about.  Not sure if they'll like him, but they will certainly be talking about him.


Before you think I’m giving Iron Man 3 a two thumbs up I’m not. Unfortunately, I have a few nitpicks that bother me, otherwise Iron Man 3 would be close to perfect.  Since this is going to be spoiler free I can’t really get into them.  At some point down the road I’ll post my issues, and I really think most of you are going to agree with what I have to say.

Finally, Iron Man 3 has some great twists and turns.  I strongly advise you to not read any reviews until you’ve seen the movie for yourself. What I can say is that I'm so glad they focused on the man and not the suit.

Final thoughts. I felt like I was a kid reading my first Iron Man comic during portions of this film. It really doesn't get any better than that for me.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen dies at 92

    I can still vividly recall watching Jason and the Argonauts on the Saturday afternoon monsterfest. The film had Jason fighting against dangerous harpies, a multi-headed hydra and arguably Harryhausen's most famous creations, an animated army of skeleton warriors. The swordfight between them and live actors took Harryhausen more than four months to complete.

    "Harryhausen's genius was in being able to bring his models alive," said a statement on the movie icon's Facebook page. "Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray's hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so."
    A "Ray Day'' is now planned for June 16, to coincide with a 50th-anniversary screening of Jason and the Argonauts at the BFI in London, said Mark Mawston, a friend of the Harryhausen family in London.

    S Module Illustrations Now Available from WotC

    WotC has put the complete S series illustration booklets online as free downloads!


    Dungeons of Dread is the reprint of the classic S series modules (S1 - S4). This is a nicely put together package of some killer modules, that I never had the good luck of actually playing all the way through.

    If you are a fan of the printed word like I am you will have a real problem ripping out pages from the modules/reprint. WotC has resolved this dilemma by putting all four illustration booklets online for a free download. They look pretty good.

    What makes this even better for all the DMs/gamers out there is that you don't actually need to own any of the originals (or even the reprint compilation) to use them. Grab these downloads and use them to set up the scenes for some adventures of your own devising. Why let iconic D&D art like this go to waste?

    Friday, May 3, 2013

    Free Comic Book Day

    Since I'm still a geek/nerd at heart even though I haven't collected any comics for years this still gets me going.

    Free Comic Book Day  - the first Saturday in May each year - when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely free* to anyone who comes into their stores. 

    *Check with your local comic book shop for their participation and rules.