Monday, July 15, 2019

Updates - Compass Rose Inn, Website, Etc.

Happy Monday!

A few months ago, I purchased Inkwell Idea's Worldographer which is an excellent way to visualize your campaign ideas. This weekend, I released a new title called The Compass Rose Minisetting. This product introduces the Compass Rose Inn in visual form and brings to life long time NPCs from my home campaign. It is listed at PWYW with a suggested price of $1.99. It has been selling briskly since it's Sunday evening release.

This mapset is rules agnostic, there are zero references to rulesets. It can be plugged into any campaign setting or ruleset.

In August, a companion to this piece will be released. It will feature characters for D&D and AD&D, will contain more history, magic items and obviously, more maps. It will be offered at a $4.99 price point as a separate product.

In order to launch this product on time, I have placed 52 Weeks of Magic on a 3 week hiatus. Some of the magic items that would have appeared here will be included with this updated version of The Compass Rose Inn.

Additionally, These Old Games will be reworked during this time to incorporate posts from my 3 other blogs as they are being decommissioned at the end of this year. I simply cannot write, work, attend school, have a family and continue to update 4 different blogs.

I hope you enjoy these new features, as much I do producing them.

Phil

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

31 Notes for Writing History

I have written 100+ History papers in the past 6 semesters. I have collected some advice from my professors and personal experience, which I though should be shared:
  1. Learn to love double spaces papers, hate single spaced papers. 
  2. 12 point fonts are fine.
  3. New Times Roman is the default choice for a reason.
  4. The professor's style guide is best. Do not argue. 
  5. Oxford commas are impactful, important, and helpful.
  6. Staples are not be a good idea, they should be the law. 
  7. Number multiple page documents even when stapled. 
  8. Use the school directory to look up the professor's name. Spell it correctly. 
  9. Add your own name to spell check. 
  10. Do not merely spell check. 
  11. Do not use contractions. 
  12. "Extremely" and "huge" both mean "I need a thesaurus". 
  13. Dates do not have apostrophes. 
  14. "Very" is unnecessary.
  15. "Interesting" is not. 
  16. "Toward" is United States usage, "Towards" is British and Buffalo, NY usage. 
  17. History does not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. 
  18. "Etc." is not worth using. There are better ways. 
  19. Foreign words are in italics. Foreign means it is not in an English dictionary. (Important if you are any kind of bilingual.)
  20. No first OR second person, unless the professor requires it. Thank them when they do.  
  21. The past is always in the the past tense.
  22. Do not confuse British for English. The same goes for others. If in doubt, look it up.  
  23. Do not confuse name places for countries.
  24. "Would" is a crutch or a mistake. Be careful. 
  25. "Led" is clearer than "Would lead". 
  26. Passive voice is painful, but not avoidable. 
  27. When comparing situations implicitly link subjects to periods. 
  28. Do not hide verbs.  
  29. Learn how write citation from memory.  
  30. Do not use clich├ęs.
  31. Learn how to type special characters and accent marks manually.  
Bonus: "Thank you" means "thank you". "You're welcome" means "you're welcome". They are not interchangeable. 

Full of S*** on Valentine's Day

As a child, my favorite "toy" was a black corduroy tuxedo. It must have been a hand-me-down from lord knows who. It had black pants with a red stripe down the leg, and more importantly, a matching black vest.

With my toy blaster, it made the most epic Han Solo costume ever.

Not that I wore it for Halloween. It was my "Everyday Han Solo" costume. I wore it to school, I wore it church. I wore it winter, summer fall and spring. I wore the hell out of that thing.

I wore it until it was ridiculously small on me; and even then, I did not give it up. I willed that thing to fit me for the opening of Return of the Jedi. I managed to hold on to it for years, no matter how hard my mom tried to dispose of it.

I told Kitty this story, long before we ever got married. She laughed and said, "You are so funny, but so full of shit."

My only reply was to pull the sad, little suit out of my closet and show it to her. She was so shocked and surprised, her eyes rolled back into her head.

On this Valentine's Day, I don't have any eye rolling revelations, or a tux, or wacky surprises in the closet, Jennifer Kitty Viverito. Only a great story about fun times. Thank you, today and every day, for laughing with me.

Three Character Study - Moral Creatures

This document was written as 3 character study, where 2 of the characters are children. The main intent was to create a realistic seeming conversation including children. I did not want idiots or wunderkind. I think I succeeded, but in free writing, created a rather dark story.

The secondary intent of this post was to imbed a Google doc into a blogger post, as can be done with Google sites. It's a bit tricky, but I think I nailed it down. 

New Unnamed Project - Meet Terra and Vera

When the semester ends, I start losing my writing skills. While writing science fiction and fantasy is wildly different than writing about history or social studies, any writing helps keeps some of those skills sharp.

Tonight's posts are two excerpts from a 7 character study. Terra and Vera are travelers on a space ship in the Epsilon Indi system. When we meet them, they are waking from cryogenic sleep. This story is fairly hard science fiction story. There is no faster than light travel, no artificial gravity, few habitable planets as we would like them to be.

One interesting plot point is that Epsilon Indi seems to have a Jupiter analog in addition two brown dwarfs. The Jupiter analog is where their ship was built, about 6.5 AU from the primary star. The brown dwarfs are 1,500 AU from the primary. Since there is no FTL, travel between these locations is tedious.

When the colonists left Earth, they traveled in generation ships. On arrival at Epsilon Indi, the colonists developed suspended animation to make travel in the system easier on the mind. One of the side effects of the technology is that the human mind has to be awakened before the body is brought out of cryogenic freezing. This experience would normally be painful and boring, so the ship's AI is able to generate a mindspace for the humans to exist in. This is called chimeric space. Chimeric in the sense that it is a dream or wish, unfulfilled.

Chimeric space has some rules. An AI controls it, but that AI cannot impinge upon it. Some robots can appear in chimeric space, but this is quirk of software. They are being informed of the output of a simulated version of themselves, rather than an actual participant like human.

Another quirk of this simulation is, it cannot be used to create mirrors. When a mirror is requested by the sleeper, they instead see an external view of themselves. Any mirrors that do appear have special coding to make them work correctly and cannot be simulated at a whim. The closest chimeric space can go to creating a mirror on the fly is giving the sleeper an external view of themselves. Since people can shift between internalized and externalized points of view, they have concept of "entopic" point of view, which merely means "in the correct place or way".

The sleeper has an idealized sense of themselves, the real world and the virtual world. A person in chimeric space is slowly adapting back to their sleeping body and will detect changes happening to them in the real world. Their sense of time is highly distorted, so becoming aware of someone dressing them seems to take days or weeks.

Terra and Vera have some commonalities, despite Terra being twice as old as Vera. Both were injured in war, both had cancer. Terra is a space ship captain and her brush with cancer was a known occupational hazard. Vera, on the other hand was irradiated by a weapon. As a consequence, she has any number of physical and mental problems, few of which most people can relate to, although through age and experience Terra can come close to understanding.

The title "Vera 1.0" is a consequence of her PTSD. She is reliving the past. When I get to it, "Vera 2.0" will take place along side of Terra's experiences. "Vera 1.0" is taking place in just seconds, like how dreams coalesce in the moment of waking.

This is very rough draft. I hope you enjoy it. As always, please feel free to share your feedback.


The Almost Ugly, Unicorn Princess Story

Nothing is ever perfect, until it is.

Within the first 24 hours of dating my wife, I did something unusual that has been a part of our lives ever since: I read a book to my wife. It was a passage from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It doesn’t matter what page or passage, it was the one I meant, and it wasn’t a thing I intended to do. Nothing is so perfect, but it left a mark on us that still exists today.

Fast forward many years. My wife brought three wonderful children into this world and I made damn sure that I read to them as I did her. Reading is incredibly powerful. It requires no money, no power, no station or status but it can enrich a mind in ways that exceed all of those things.

I read to my kids and I still read to them even though they can do it for themselves. I read to my wife and I read for myself.

And sometimes, a tiny bit of magic can come from such a simply pleasure.

My daughter was born with a hemangioma. It was a strange, tumor-like structure on the bridge of her nose, about the size of a golf ball. Most of the time, they are very benign. Most often, hemangiomas do not require any treatment at all.

However my daughter, Cat’s hemangioma was different. Located on the bridge of her nose, there was the danger that it could affect the development of her eyes. Cruelly, this would not be direct damage to her eyes but a subtle impingement on her visual perception. Her brain would learn that something prevented sight in that space between her eyes and compensate by ignoring input from that area. If it wasn’t removed fast, she could have a large blind spot that her brain learned not to see. If that happened, there was a chance her sight would be destroyed.

(All that and it was unsightly. Having a child with a tumor on the face has the side effect of pulling every a-hole out of the woodwork to point, stare and lecture.)

As I mentioned before, hemangioma are structures that typically require no treatment. It turned out that our insurance didn’t want to treat it at all. My wife fought an epic campaign to make them understand why it was so critical to have this one, special case treated. She found the best doctor. She worked with him to get the best treatment while battling the insurance company into submission. Our daughter had the best care, from the best people at every step of the way. No BS. My wife, Jennifer really did it all.

At the time, I was doing the best I could to provide. I would work like a dog, come home and did the things that needed to be done. I did my part, the best I could. My place was to support. And I made damn sure that if the kids wanted a bedtime story, they would get it no matter how tired or frustrated I was.

I read The Hobbit in a sing-song voice. I read Watership Down because of the bunnies on the cover. I read The Last Unicorn over and over again as it was my wife’s favorite. Stupid, nerdy stories that were age inappropriate; but they put my family in magical, far-away places.

At the end of the day, Cat’s hemangioma was excised but she was not left unmarked by it. On the bridge of her nose was a scar. And it was more than a red splotch. To this day, she calls her scar “her marker”.

A couple of months after the her treatment, I found Catherine playing with two neighborhood girls. There seemed to be a small row happening on our front lawn. The girls were dressed as princesses, complete with copious amounts of make-up. It was comical, except my daughter standing between the other girls armed with a red permanent marker. The other girls looked very concerned.

“What are you doing,” I asked.

“Playing Princesses…. Unicorn Princesses,” Cat answered.

“Unicorn Princesses?”

“Yes, we all need markers”

“For what?”

“To be Unicorns.”

I took the marker away and Cat blew her stack. It was obviously nap time, but I had this niggling feeling that this was somehow my fault.

After a nap, I asked her what a “Unicorn Princess” was. Surprisingly, shockingly she explained that Unicorn Princesses were princesses that had a red marker on their foreheads where their horn used to be. If the other girls wanted to be Unicorn Princesses, they needed the same marker she had. Otherwise, they would simply be plain-old princesses.

Oh boy, it was my fault. And then some. I was so lucky I happened on the scene when I did. Otherwise I would be explaining a livid, semi-permanent, red mark to two sets of parents. That would be a very ugly conversation, indeed.

That night, situation defused, I read to my wife The Last Unicorn. I started where the trouble and the magic began:

“Molly smoothed the strange hair, and Schmendrick noticed on the forehead, above and between the closed eyes, a small, raised mark, darker than the rest of the skin. It was neither a scar nor a bruise. It looked like a flower.”

I can’t think of any other words that would be so perfect.

Short Story - Kitty's Whim and Horses

It started when Kitty wanted to ride horses. So one cold winter day, we were off to ride horses on a whim. Her horse was named Star and mine was called Chico. I can managed to mount a horse and saunter around, but I am far from experienced.

Chico was a majestic, deep brown horse, standing about 16 hands. I got on him like a champ. And I sat there for about 5 minutes smiling and admiring him as he admired me.

Well, no. He was sizing me up.

First, he twitched head to hoof. Then he spun, followed by a serious attempt to throw me. Since I was still attached, he took off like bolt of lightning racing over mud and snow, on the trail and then between trees. His final trick to get me off was to crash to a stop in a shallow pond and roll.

I managed to keep my seat through all of it, including in the part where he rolled over me in 18 inches of water, mud and ice. I somehow fell backwards against Chico's rump instead of being smashed forwards onto the pommel. Then we trotted back to the barn where the rest of the group was waiting.

I was terrified. So terrified, that the grin I had on mounting him was locked on my face. I couldn't speak because I had the wind knocked out of me. The people who were expecting a complaint or possibly a lawsuit were left the impression that I was completely unfazed by the horseplay. And off we went on the rest of the ride. Me, sopping wet, bruised and bloodied; others, happy, dry, and content.

After that, I was in with her.


Short Story - The College Job

In the early 1990's, I had a "job" watching the computer rooms at my school. I didn't take much effort, either it was nailed down or too old to be of use to the average student. I wasn't required to know anything about computers. Which was good, because I didn't.

One day, a guy who had interviewed for the very job I currently held came in the room. He knew a lot about computers and for whatever reason wasn't given the job. I think he had a relative at the school and it was a political thing. Anyone but him, as show of "fairness".

His sudden appearance set off alarm bells. He was acting oddly, fidgeting with stuff and moving from work station to work station. Since the room was fairly full, it was a distraction. If someone got up, he plopped himself in to the empty chair and fidgeted before moving on. Final, I asked him what he was doing.

He muttered something and turned bright red. It was clear he was both angry and embarrassed. I asked him to repeat himself and he shouted "I'm cleaning mouse balls."

I nearly died.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Issue with chroot on Chromebook

Ok, I seem to have this random crashing issue with Xenial on my Chromebook. It runs fine for weeks, then decides it will crash every time I switch from ChromeOS to Linux. Usually, I can open a Linux session but when I flip-flop back and forth, the whole machine freezes.

Annoying.

For my own sanity, I've started logging the troubleshooting I have done.

First, I ran an update. Then I decided maybe I wanted to do this in a tab to prevent these problems. So I added xiwi: 

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t xiwi -u -n xenial

Something seemed to die when I did that process. My next step was to check the updated install.

sudo enter-chroot

This line is annoying, the first time I replaced "-chroot" with "xenial". That's wrong, actual use the term provided: "-chroot". That went wrong, too. However, this seemed to work: 

sudo enter-chroot -n xenial

Next, I installed the crouton integration extension.  

Next step:

sudo startxfce4

Now, we wait to see what happens. 


Sunday, June 30, 2019

52 Weeks of Magic - Week 27 - The Arclight Bag

The Arclight Bag is a magical quiver that imparts magic to otherwise mundane arrows and bolts. The effects are based on the action of the user.

If the user is targeting a foe, firing an arrow from this quiver will cause the struck target and the firer to light up as if they were under the effect of Faerie Fire spell. Additionally, the firer is protected by a shield spell. Only the target of the arrow is entitled to a saving throw. The shooter must hit the target for the effect to start. If he or she misses, no one receives any magical effects. Any number of arrows can be empowered in this way, but striking a single target numerous times provides no additional bonuses.

The quiver will also imbue one arrow per hour with the ability to glow while in flight and "explode" like a flare when fired upwards. The flare will like the area like a Light spell for up to 3 rounds. The firer will also be surrounded with the effects of the Faerie Fire spell. This is a rescue option. In this case, the arrow is completely transformed into light at the apex of it's flight.

This usage cannot cause damage to an enemy. If this is attempted in doors, the "explosion" will light the room for 3 rounds. It does not get brighter for being inside. It cannot be used to blind characters or creatures, unless the Light spell would also cause this effect.

The arrows from the quiver do not have a bonus to hit, but the effects of Faerie Fire can modify an attack roll.

While this is described as a quiver, other objects could have this effect. For example, a Roman shield is meant to hold a handful of darts and could be a source of the Arclight effect, as could a brace of knives or a case for bolts.


Navigation
WeekItemWeekItemWeekItemWeekItem
1 2 3Emulous Cursed Sword4
5 6 7The Symbol of Sol Invictus8
9 10 11Aemilla Carna12
13 14 15Shape of Memory16
17 18 19Staff of Eyes20
21 22 23Whispering Wings24
25 25b 26Shield of Force27
The Arclight Bag



Now, the commercial. I have a little book called Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners, over at DrivethruRPG. Also on Drivethru is my custom character sheet for AD&D and Unearthed Arcana.

I am obviously thinking of writing another and Gnolls might be the subject. Please let me know what you think in the comments. 

Welcome to The Cat's Old Apartment

Many years ago, I rented an apartment in West Seneca. It was far too expensive and way too small. While it wasn't awful, it was really marginal. It had a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting area in an enclosed porch. The porch looked out on to the back of another house, so I didn't use it.

It was all unremarkable until I bought a cat. I hated the place but boy did that cat love the old apartment.

The first remarkable thing that happen was the cat could walk into rooms and vanish. She was Siamese so she was pretty vocal, even when not visible. Once she vanished, I could hear her but never find her until she chose to reappear. It was baffling. After a while, I got used to it.

One day while washing dishes, I opened a cupboard. The cupboard was annoying, it was a massive wooden structure 2-3 feet deep, yet opening the doors revealed that there was only about 12 inches of space to put things. I had assumed that the pipework was taking up the rest of the space. In any event, the cat entered the bottom cupboard. I bent over to grab her and guess what?

She wasn't there. I opened all of the cupboards and drawers as if there was a chance I was mistaken about her entering the only open door. I could hear her meowing, happily, but no cat in sight.

Then I heard it. Swish, clank. Meow! Swish, swish, clank! Meow.

I almost bolted from the apartment.

Instead, I grabbed a chair, a cup of coffee and sat down. I could hear the cat moving, sometimes from within the cupboard. But other times, the sound was coming from the bathroom or the bedroom, which was on the other side of the wall. Her movements were punctuated with that odd swish-clank! noise.

Three cups of coffee later, the cat reappeared from the cupboard I saw her enter. I noticed a small hole in the back of the cupboard, just big enough for a determined cat to enter. On closer inspection, I noticed many small holes, often no more than an inch or two in diameter in the back of each cupboard. Very odd. 

The next day, I armed myself with a flashlight, paper, pencil and a ruler. A map like the one below was the result. This map is not to scale, it is more a schematic and from memory.


The first thing I noticed when mapping the old apartment was that if a door could open, it would often block another doorway. Annoying. Item 2, room dimensions didn't make sense relative to the exterior size of the house. And the cupboard was disturbingly disproportional to the room and interior storage space.

There was obviously a space behind it. Looking in the various holes revealed something disquieting. There were ropes, chains and pieces of cloth. 

If I was the bolting kind, I would have been gone at this point.

With a little experimentation, I was able to determine the function of this odd cupboard. It was physically dominating in the room, obviously hiding a space behind it. Aside from the small holes, no bigger than a couple of inches, there were no larger openings. Nothing on the walls behind it nor the attic above or the apartment below. Violently opening or closing the cupboard doors caused air to enter the holes and made the fabric, ropes and chains swing noisily. It was meant to distract.

But distract from what?

In my bedroom, the cat had taken a liking to the closet. It turns out there was a secret passage way from the closet of one bedroom to the closet of the other bedroom. It was about 7 feet long. In bedroom two, there was an odd grill, which looked like a heater vent. Except, there was no central heat in this apartment. I had a gas heater awkwardly placed in the kitchen, nearly blocking bedroom 2's doorway. It turns out this grate could be pushed upwards to allow access to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, across from this grate was an inset shelf, no more than 3 inches deep. Pushing it allowed access to the large space labeled with a question mark. This area was about 10 by 10 and painted jet black. Or so it seemed. I entered the area without a light and as my eyes adapted, I noticed the shapes standing along the wall. And they were looking at me. 

This time I did bolt.

When I worked up the courage to reenter the apartment, the cat was happily playing in this space so I had to go back in there. With a baseball bat and a very bright flashlight.

Someone had painted the walls with odd blue, pink, purple and mauve lines. They were not even and sometimes broken lines. At about head level, there were white ovals. Only the floor and ceiling were actually black. These shapes looked like people standing against the wall. How creepy.

In this space, I noticed two ladders. One went up and one went down. One lead to the basement and another lead upwards to a crawl space. It was horribly filthy and the wooden catwalk was only about 18 inches wide. I decided not to try my luck.

Later that evening, while sitting in the living room, I took a good look at the old fireplace. It had been sealed up years ago and was now a rather small but nice bookshelf. That matched the shelf in the bathroom. I pushed it and it slid back to reveal another space.

This area was a crawlspace with a ladder to one side, again with the odd paint job, which also covered a window. When a window's glass is painted over, the creep factor climbs by 101. I climbed up the ladder and noticed the same 18" crawlway leading back to the bathroom. This was no an attic of any kind, it was a catwalk above the ceilings. I could see that the area above the cupboard was sealed up with thick wood planks. Some odd bumps might have been the chains and ropes.

I have no idea what all of this was for. Maybe someday I will tell what my landlady said about the apartment and my friend's theories. But not at night. I don't want to think about it.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Drawing from the Past

This week, artwork has been on my mind. In July, I am going to challenge myself to learn to draw hands and feet. Those are tough subjects, especially if you have little skill. If only I drew more, I would be a better artist.

For inspiration in this self-challenge, I found a book Drawing for Printers by Ernest Knaufft. It was published in 1899 and is available at Gutenberg. It is a treatise printers, not a how to book. Since I also like writing, it may be beneficial for a couple of purposes.


At the very least for publishers of Old School Gaming products, this sort of book captures the style of early game publishers. If you would like a more modern look at publish games, check out A Brief Study of TSR Book Design by Kevin Crawford. I did a review of it about a year ago. I wish I had found it before I started developing my BD&D/AD&D supplement, Zero to Hero