Sunday, September 15, 2019

The South-Western Woes and Rues

The city of Nace is a fair city, one that sees travelers come from all over the Peninsula to trade for magical goods. It is the second city of the Empire, only surpassed by the Capital itself. However, it is not without it's own troubles.

A Worldographer map of the South West Corner of Nace. 
Unlike the Capital, this city was of entirely human design. The Empire has been building cities for centuries, but usually with the assistance of gnomes. Since the city was built to meet the needs of those fleeing the Port after a particularly hard hurricane season, there was no time to send for the gnomish guilds. From the base camp, the two main roads were extended 360 yards north and south, east and west. Each road was 30 feet wide slashing the town into 64 (technically, less than that.) even squares. As the walls were built, the aqueduct was brought into the east side of the city.

Perfect!

Wrong.

Under the South-Western walls was thick layer of clay which the engineers covered with stone to support the roads, walls and towers. Some careless planning caused the fountains and cisterns to be irregularly placed on the north side of the city. Compacting the clay soils walls caused the natural flow of water to be disrupted which was exacerbated by the incorrect placement of water features. The backwash flooded the south-western side of the city. The walls held, the towers held, but a sea of mud and sewage bubbled up from the roadways, fountains and cisterns.

The town came up with an a hoc solution. Install large gravel filled berms along the western wall to absorb the overflow. In order to do this, the South and West Walls, towers and all needed to be moved back 30 or so feet. It was expensive and it cost the town it's planned regular shape, but it solved the problem.

Now the natural course of the water has not been restored, but floods an area several hundred feet west of the city. That area runs riot with all kinds of flowering plants and shrubs which sweetens the air. Additionally, this area makes travel by wagon and horse difficult, so it also holds off raiders. The trails along the west wall have formed from years of inspection and people venturing out to gather wild berries and flowers.

Since each 30 by 30 area of land is based on the overall planned area of each insula, these areas are overpriced. Additionally, the worry of possible flooding limits those desiring land from building along these walls. As a consequence of this mess, people refer to these walls as "The South-West Woes". Woe Street runs north-south and Rue Street runs East-West along those walls. 

A Worldographer map of the Western gates. In the north eastern corner of each insula should be well or fountain.
Note how irregularly placed they are. 

Towards the center of town, just on the edge of the Forum is an area called Hopper Town. The local brew-masters banded together and purchased much of the land and have planted gardens and orchards to support their trade. Most houses have a small herb garden but the use of large tracts of lands for growing, outside of the city's official gardens, is prohibited. The reason that the brew-masters have gotten away with this is beer. It's a huge tax base and general balm against insurrection.

Proper Equipment - Non-Gamer Style


A friend of mine has a wonderful website called Blue Shift Designs for purses, bags, soaps and clothing. I can't tell you I've tried these products, but my wife has and they are exceptional. Personally, I love the soaps but I could totally see a gamer rocking a bag for books or accessories. Each one is lovingly handmade, no two are identical.

While I spend a lot of time outfitting my characters, there is a special sort pleasure in outfitting my wife. Especially when the choice is a high quality, yet one of a kind design. Gifts are wonderful, because they are typically items you would never think to buy yourself.

You can check out her blogspot here or follow her Facebook page. If you follow along on Facebook, you get previews of new items as she creates them.

Darien Lake Under Six Flags

It's a rebuilding year for Darien Lake under Six Flags. We gotten a new ride, The Sky Screamer. And old ride removed, The Vomit Log or whatever they called it. The Pirate is a hit or miss, which is ok because they extended hours to the end of October. But the one thing they improved is something you can't see... The free WiFi service. Today, I haven't found a spot where it doesn't reach.

We will certainly be back more this year.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Inkwell Ideas, Worldographer Software

Worldographer map from this year. 
I purchased the Pro version of every product by Inkwell Ideas. My favorite is Worldographer, which can create world and continent sized maps, regional maps, city maps, and battlemats. The software is so comprehensive and rich, that I often find that I need a bit of help to get what I want done.

Hand drawn map from 2 years ago.
I usually just google answers and when combined with Inkwell Ideas' forums and the Manual I can get things done.

Today I googled something and discovered that Inkwell is using some of my maps as examples.

I love that!



Science Fiction - 000 Armor

This evening I read Population of Loss and was struck by the character Signalman.

He is a sort of mystical entity in a steampunk world. That is epic.

The image to left is a rendition of suit of armor from a reoccurring dream I used to have in the mid-1990s. While I believe my dream was trying to represent a version of me inside a high tech suit, all of my recollections of it are colored by a demented sort of dream-logic, which can seem a bit mystical.

Being from a dream, the suit does not have a name, but for the purpose of this post, I will call it the 000 Armor.

There are three tanks on this armor. The two tanks on the back of the armor contain a substance which is much colder than absolute zero. It shouldn't make sense, but mathematically, that substance should be hotter than hell while the area around it is intensely cold. To regulate that power, the small tank on the front contains an anti-matter reactor. It doesn't provide power to the suit, it keeps the irrationally cold meta-material in check. That work provides the power to the suit, mostly as an afterthought. The wearer's eyes are closed because he is frozen. Only his brain is working at incredible speeds due the cryogenic coursing through him.   

Being frozen, moving fingers are impossible, so the hands are protected by a pair of cestus-like weapons. The wearer cannot "see" light, but the suit is pouring in data from all across the em-spectrum. Moving in a traditional sense isn't really possible. The suit shambles like a zombie when it has to, but it's main motive power is provided by the super cold, meta-material. The suit possesses a property of non-locality. It simply shifts from one place to another. It can't sit idle, it tends to shift from place to place like the disruption of circular waves on a pond by a second rock. Seemingly random, but not really.

The suit's energy needs are met by the differential of temperature between it and the environment and this is moderated by the anti-matter reactor. Its meant for space but on the surface of a planet, it is barely balanced for basic operations. There is an area of alternating bands of temperature which has tendency of destroying everything around it. Plus, the suit is dumping hard radiation into the environment. Most things which come into close proximity to the 000 Armor are vaporized and rain down as an ash-like material over a vast area.

The suit takes moments to put on, but requires an incredible amount of technology to remove. The process takes weeks and is often fatal. While it can handle air, it has great difficultly when contacting solids, vapors and most especially, liquids. Falling in a body of water can drain the entire suit in short order, killing the occupant.

Should the suit start to fail, the operator can open their eyes. Ominously, the 000 Armor's heads up display will show a series of recordings, usually by loved ones, urging the user to fight to stay alive. You would think that this messages would be a digital and wholly fictional creation, but they are not. The operator is required to attend the recordings, so they understand that they must fight or die in these circumstances. 

The suit is tasked with fighting large robotic entities. Picture a city bus standing on its tail and mounted on top of very large tank in place of the turret. These robots have all manor of lasers, grenades, machine guns and missiles, which can wreck a city block or aircraft carrier in moments. It has 2 dozen missiles which are very peculiar in operation. They lay flat inside the main body and are forced out the top of the robot, at any angle. Picture a vertical launch tube on a submarine that can project a missile in any direction from straight up to completely flat. The robot has a small dead zone around it where the missiles cannot strike. Perhaps 40 meters around. The secondary weapons guard this area.

These weapons are all ineffective against the mobility that the suit provides.

The robot entity contains and carries a massive swarm of locust-like drones, which are supposed to collect data and repair damage. They also provide the motive force for the missile launchers.

It turns out that simply ramming the 000 Armor with drones is more effective than any of the robot's  weapons. In the image, you can see that the armor has been knocked around a bit by the drone swarm. The main reason is the swam can cover an area larger than the suit's non-locality function.

Book Review - Population of Loss

Title: Population of Loss
Author: Michael DiBaggio and  Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Illustrator: Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Year: 2014
Pages: 46
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

I hate big screen or small screen characters render in novel form. It's always horrible, little better than the second Star Wars book, Splinter in the Minds Eye. I want to tell future readers that this is a mashup of comic book characters set in the science fiction worlds of 1880s and 90s.

It is, but it really isn't. The prose reminds me of the classic adventure of The War of the Worlds, which it should because it is implicitly set with in that world. Each of the four short stories captures that time period perfectly, no accidental or intentional anachronistic parts at all. The Signalman does remind me of Iron Man, but he is not remotely a superhero in that vein. In fact, I know that he should be a comic book character because that is what he was designed to be, but somehow, he isn't. Nor are any of the other characters.

Its hard to describe what the Celestial Paladin is, but I can tell you where these characters came from. There are hints of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien fused with H. G. Wells. The story "In Hoc Signo" starts in Well's world of Tripod invaders and ends with a taste of Lewis's Out of a Silent Planet. The writing is more than strong, it is powerful. Reading older works is often difficult due to the changing of styles. But Mr. and Mrs. DiBaggio do not struggle with this. They capture the flavor of these works, but also give it a style all their own. The easy comparison is to the past, but the authors manage to infuse this style with a more modern frantic-ness, in the vein of Dagberto Glib ("Love in L.A.") or Louise Erdrich ("The Red Convertible"). Perhaps it is the vignette style of these 4 short pieces that capture a tiny bit of introspection by the authors, which echos through each piece.

Regarding the illustrations, they are from a very different artist from the Shell "Presto" DiBaggio, who engages with her audience on social media. They have tiny reflection of the work of Kahlil Gibran. What is most interesting about the images of the Signalman and The Cyclone Ranger, is that they show an evolution of style over 2 years. The second is more like Mrs. DiBaggio's current artwork, but still reflecting the style of that old era. Like the writing, the illustrations have a touch of modern, frantic energy, while still embodying the works of arts from the past. Instead of being caught in between eras, they are great enhancements to the stories told. They fit perfectly.

I was only vaguely aware that the book contained artwork, and I would suggest to the reader that they obtain a paper copy as paper will always render the artwork closest to what the artist intended. It is an inherent flaw in all ebook technology.

I will give this book one more read, maybe two before purchasing the next title. It was an excellent primer for the world of Ascension Epoch.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Miniature Treasures - The Moldy Unicorn

Title: The Moldy Unicorn
Code: N/A
Author: Nate Treme
Rule Set: Angostic
Year: 2019
Pages: 6
Number of characters: As needed
Levels: N/A
Rating: ★★★★★

If a book has a good cover, I'll probably take a look. If it has that haute 70's look, the smash of day old banana and lime colored paste, I'll do a double take. If it has both of the above, plus the childish, rounded look of a composition notebook, my brain shuts down and the money comes out, no questions asked.

Well, that's what happened with The Moldy Unicorn a few days ago. I purchased one of a few physical copies based on a single image on MeWe.com. And then I forgot about it.

It arrived today.

I opened the envelope and was all disappointed. It was tiny. Really tiny. "I paid money for this?"

Then I opened the booklet. And the frisson hit. Suddenly, I was 8 year old me, standing in Walden Books, smelling nasty carpet chemicals and mall pretzels, looking a copy of the Red Basic D&D rule book. Gary, Dave and Tom whispered, "Go ahead, turn the page."

The thing is six g-ddamn pages, packed with amazing stuff. Pages 1 and 2 describe The Moldy Unicorn with a colorful map. Page 3 lists encounters for the Inn. The next page describes how to design a Demon, with 3 tables, conveniently labeled 1-12 for easy die rolling. The last two pages are a mini dungeon, Grotburk Crypt.

The artwork is excellent. It isn't excellent in the sense of a masterpiece, but the odd, brightly colored outsider art that masters cannot duplicate. The text is tight, it has to be in a volume this small.

While its only 6 pages (8 if you count the covers, the thing that made me **WANT** this 'zine), those pages are highly concentrated. Being so tiny, it is delicate. I already know that I am going to buy a special picture frame for this. I am just moments away from heading to DriveThruRPG and purchasing an electronic copy, to jealously protect the physical copy like mage protects his spell book.

It's been decades since I have been this happy with a purchase. Of course, I've read it cover to cover. But I'm going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. This is great buy. This is well worth the $6.00 for the physical copy, $5.00 for the PDF.

To put some perspective on the Star Rating above, I review a lot of things. Computer hardware and software, novels, games, historical books, etc. If I'm not going to give something 3 stars, I'm not giving any stars. If you're not going to give at least 3 stars, its like trash talking people. This is the first time I have been compelled to give 5 gold stars, underlined. I've reviewed several of my mom and dad's books. I don't hand out gold stars. It is very rare that I am so enchanted with any product to completely rethink my rating system.

Rejected Stories - Unwanted Snark

To keep the ball rolling, sometimes
you need to cut parts out. 
I have a file where I keep text that I find particularly interesting but useful to the task at hand. I use it as a prompt for other writing. This didn't fit because the narrator isn't the important person at this point in the story. You can file this under: "I wish this was fiction".

     The professor glared at us. The upside of being 44 years old and in college for the first time is, I am doing this on my own dime. I purchased a book, a seat and a professor. I don’t mind saying that if I have a need. The professors hate it, but word is out that I have the college’s customer service number. I’ve asked for the supervisor of two different deans. They frigging hate me. I can’t say I like me, either.
     My adviser is a double doctor. He has a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering and another in Adult Education. He is insufferable. We hit it off well. He told the 150 or so freshmen that if we wanted a different adviser, we would not be able to find a better one than he. 
     I snorted.
     “Did you have a better adviser in mind?” he asked.
     “Yes,” I said.
     “Who?”
     “Your mom sounds pretty good,” I replied.
     At the time, thought I was sharp.
     It turns out his mom also has a Ph.D. And she is on the college’s board. I wish I had done some more research before opening my mouth.
     In retrospect, it was all fairly predictable. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Session 3 preview - North Market

The mapping of my town continues. This is the North Market area, which is "north" of the forum. This area is a mixed use zone, where row houses have popped up in a rather regular way in the North East section of this insula. However, down in the South West quadrant, the row houses are rather rough. 


The southern row houses look ruder because they are older, not because the people that live there are poor. It was a slap-dash build for people looking to get into the city fast. As you can see, there are a couple of rich villas right in with the row houses, separated by some green space. This is just a little off of the center of the city, so its still high society.

I am really loving this software and this style of map. It allows me to cover huge areas quickly, so that I can spend a few minutes mapping each day.

Each area has it's own little story in my mind and I can come back and add details later. I am probably not making the best use of Worldographer using the battlemat like this, but this town is hardly organic. It is relatively sterile and uniform as opposed to a town that sprung up from a chance placement of one house, or town square.

At the Table: Those wacky players.

Ah, my wacky players. I pretty much play fast and free with spell casting characters. In the first session, I note which spells they like and then take that into concentration when planning combat.

Theoretically, AD&D magic users should have a limited number of spells. When I plan a combat session, I write down what I want the bad guys to have.

Sometimes, this goes to wanting a specific flavor and other times I fall on the side of "team evil" and use those spells to hose the player characters with significant casting issues. Darkness, light, and silence spells can inflict horrible effects on spell casters, so I am generally pretty careful with them.

What makes my players so wacky is, I can't help but notice that the first couple of sessions, they riff through the spell list and just pick one to cast. After a few levels and encounters, I have flat out caught players casting off a list when they had been picking and choosing among all of the spells a session before.

In every case, the limited choices are comprised of scrolls and spell books found as treasure. What the heck?

Ah, dang. The players go from winging it at low levels to wanting a specific effect or flavor when playing more advanced, knowledgeable characters.

Should I hand out XP for quietly imposing limitations on one's self? I just might. What about you? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Dungeons and Dragons TV Show Review on Thac0

Ryan Marsh over on Thac0 has been posting reviews of the old Saturday Morning Cartoon, Dungeons and Dragons.

His first post details the main characters, the NPCs and then covers the ins and outs of the episode. I love reliving these cartoons. Having someone else's take on them is even better. Go check these out before Ryan runs through so many episodes, you'll have to binge read. :)

My out and out favorite character is Eric the Cavalier. According to Wikipedia, he was put in the show at the request of parent's groups, to support the idea that the group is always right and the whiner is always wrong. Yeeeesss. But...

Eric annoying yet another friend, Diana this time. 
Eric is 15 year old boy in the 80's. If you weren't to top dog in your group, you were either the distruptor or the yes man. Oddly, exactly zero of the characters are yes men, not even the girls in the series. Which was wonderfully refreshing. The character dynamics were great. They weren't your typical cookie cutter characters.

Presto can't perform unless provoked and he is never mocked by the gang (Teased, yes. Mocked, no). Billy is just a force of nature that the others try to hold in check as he flies off the handle at every opportunity. Sheila and Diana have their own, consistent and important points of views, which very often are not remotely the same. Sheila is the big sister and is protective. Diana is the mistress of personal safety, despite being very caviler when it comes to risking herself. Hank is not some dumb jock pushing people around. Five of the six are positive types of people.

What makes me favor Eric from the get go is he was so abrupt. Six steps past rude, perhaps even dangerous, when he can manage it. Someplace, way down inside, he knows that he is out of place and overwhelmed.

Clearly, if you know what you are doing, Hank has the best tool: A magic bow with not so delineated powers. It's a magic machine for the plot.

Boring.

Eric, has a shield that can encase his friends within a bubble of protection. He has to get in front. He has to be in the line of fire for it to be useful. And he is afraid of most unknowns. But he does what he has to to protect his friends.

That isn't so special, that's just like being a regular human being. Eric could be anyone, anyone could be Eric. That's why I like him so much.

Its been a while since this show has been on the air. Did you forget about? Hop on over to Thac0 and follow Ryan Marsh's reviews. Relive a bit of the magic of Saturday Mornings again.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Assassin's Doom - Worldbuilding for a Campaign

I've been using detailed maps for this campaign and for the last 10 days or so have been trying to create a map for the city of Nace.

Nace is laid out as a typical Roman city, a north-south road, an east-west road, a forum in the center and walls and towers all the way around. All neighborhoods are inside insulas or regular shaped areas on a grid like map.

So what do you get when you fuse a Roman city with a classic D&D campaign?

Strange things.

First, what do I need for the campaign?

A town or city with a hefty population. 15-20,000 people are in Nace.

Who is in charge? An aedile is in charge of the city proper. At this time, this character is unnamed.

Do they have temples and churches? Yes, in the forum. If there isn't place for a given sect, it is in the planning. These people have no problem with negative/evil sects so long as laws aren't broken.

Do they have guilds? Yes, for all character classes except fighters and assassins. These people would be in the military. The Assassin Guild is defunct, all members were killed. There is also a combination religious and magical guild, necessary for the production of the Empire's magical crops. Production of useful material require both magic and religion. The thieves guild is rather small time, very low level members who usually move on to bigger and better things rather than advance as thieves. The city has a problem with brigand raiding, which puts thieving in perspective.

Is there a town guard? Yes. Made up of legionaries. There used to be a secret police unit, but it was wiped out with the Assassin's Guild.

So, what is the Assassin's Doom? It will be the first City Adventure my players will engage in. In the next couple of posts, I will detail what happened to the Assassin's guild and secret police, and explain why they haven't been replaced.