Friday, August 18, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Reboot

IT Tech: "Got it!"

Accountant: "So what you did was just turn it off, and then try it again?"

IT Tech: "I think it was the turning it off and on again that made it work."

Accountant: "Thank God for IT people."

Y'all, it was a coffee maker.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

My Random Poetry: Trapped

Right, so: I guess this is a preface to a preface. Sorry. Anyway: my mother died a little over a year ago. Last weekend, my father, in the process of cleaning our her things, found that she'd apparently kept a poem I wrote in the bottom of a dresser drawer. (The poem was in the drawer, I mean. I don't generally make a habit of writing in the bottom of dresser drawers.)

Among the various oddities involved in this discovery: I have no memory of writing this. None. I might have an extant copy of it in my files somewhere, but if so I don't know where and haven't looked at it in years. I had actually forgotten that it ever existed.

Having now re-read it, I think I have a vague memory of the conversation that provoked it and the poem itself. But at this point, I'm honestly unsure whether that's a true memory, or whether my brain is just putting together some kind of backfill/retcon pseudomemory. The biggest argument for the idea that I wrote it is simply the fact that the printed paper had my name on it.

I don't suppose any of that is really relevant to the poem itself, but it was interesting enough that I wanted to make a note of it -- at the very least, just in case I came back and discovered it again, and wanted some context. And so but anyway, here's the poem, complete with its original preface.

An ex-girlfriend once asked me if I felt 'trapped' in our relationship. As you might expect with a question like that, she isn't my girlfriend anymore. Still, the question got me to thinking, and what with one thing and another my answer got garbled up with something I was humming, the result being the song you 're about to hear. I call it, "Trapped."
December 2003

What started out as just a fling
Had been going on for years,
When she asked me the strangest thing.
I guess she had her fears.

Do you feel trapped by life with me?
Is there something you'd rather do?
Do you ever wish that you were free
To find somebody new?

I'd no idea how to answer that
Not a single word seemed safe.
So I stood there gaping like a prat,
'Til the silence seemed to chafe.

I could feel the darkness closing in,
I couldn't seem to see
'til I opened up my mouth again ...
... and these words came to me.

Is my heart trapped by my chest?
Is a bird trapped by its nest?
Does the fur restrict the dog?
Does the mud restrict the hog?
I know the news is gonna hurt,
But I'm trapped like a plant in its dirt.

Well she looked at me with sparkling eyes,
And she said, "I love you too.
I wouldn't want any other guys.
I'd rather be with you."

What we both know, some never learn:
Life isn't always fun.
But even when it's bad it can still be good,
If you've got the right someone.
For the record, she's my ex-girlfriend because she graduated to the position of "wife."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Borderlands Lore from Firstborn

Firstborn: "You know, Daddy, I've noticed that in every borderlands game the intro video always has one character who doesn't get introduced with their real name. Like, with the Pre-Sequel, it was 'Claptrap as A Mistake'. Which is kind of right, I mean he really is a mistake, but he's the Fragtrap. Well, since we were hypothesizing characters for Borderlands, um, the next one, whatever it may be called... I was wondering which of the characters we thought of would actually get that sort-of privilege. 'Cause the mutated skag doesn't really seem appropriate, because what would you name it as?"

Me: "The Experiment?"

Firstborn: "Huh. Interesting.

Me: "What were our other characters?"

Firstborn: "The other characters... there was the mutant skag, there was the person who was part rakk, we had the reformed Hyperion loader, and didn't have like, the little dwarf from the desert with like the bombs and stuff?"

Me: "We could use the loader, I guess: 'Loaderboy as A Traitor To His Corporation!'"

Firstborn: "How about just traitor? Or 'The Traitor'?"

Me: "Better. Not as awkward."

Firstborn: "Actually, now that I think about it, I just thought of a new idea for the loader's ability. Maybe, like, for one of the upgrades when it does its initial transformation on one of the paths it'll hack something mechanical nearby that can be hacked. Like, maybe have somebody's laser gun nearby fire at anything and everything but the loader."

Me: "Could be cool."

Secondborn: "Actually, I think it would be cool if the characters could do combos. Like, the guy with the bombs would throw out a bomb, and if the loader had taken the Bulldozer upgrade path it could charge into the bomb and fling it enemies."

Me: "One of these days we're going to have to build our own game."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Boys & D'n'D Session 5

Short game again this weekend (our attention spans were, let us say, not at their most extended).

We picked up at the bottom of the spiral ramp, where our heroes had just finished defeating a skeletal owlbear. Secondborn decided that he wanted to head down the hallway where the last of the goblins "ran away like a coward". So he steps out into the spider-infested temple and immediately notices that the bodies are missing. Firstborn steps out behind him, and tries to figure out if there are new figures up in the webs - in other words, whether there might be more spiders which have come down, wrapped up the bodies and pulled them into the webbing that covers the ceiling. It's hard to be sure (everything up there is covered in webs) but he thinks there are some new bundles up there.

They turn right, following the cross-passage that the goblin fled down. It runs straight, then opens into a very large room. Like the rest of this level, the walls and floor are dressed stone, and the cracks between the blocks are overgrown with strange mushrooms and a phosphorescent lichen, which provides just enough light that they don't need a lamp. The room has a high ceiling, and there are pillars at regular intervals -- mostly intact, but some fallen. Between the pillars are some extremely large mushrooms.

I have everybody roll spot checks. Firstborn and Secondborn roll pretty well, and realize that this is a village; Beautiful Wife rolls even better, and realizes that this is a goblin village. (Yes, these goblins have a mushroom-based economy/ecology. It's probably why the goblins upstairs, who were almost certainly mushroom-farmers, were so excited to find chickens.)

At that moment, a goblin walks out of one of the mushroom-houses, utterly fails to see the group standing in the doorway, and turns and goes the other way, towards the center of the village. (The goblins did not roll well on their Spot checks this session.)

Secondborn decides that this is his cue, and sneaks towards the mushroom that the goblin has just left. He peeks in through the door -- which is actually just a fibrous cloth hung over a hole in the side of the mushroom -- and sees another goblin inside the mushroom, along with two baby goblins. He notices that even being a baby is not enough to make a goblin "cute", but that they do have cute little baby toes even if they're green.

At this point another goblin comes out of a nearby house, completely fails to notice the human peering into his next-door-neighbor's front door, and also heads off into the village. (Did I mention that the goblins did not roll well on their Spot checks this session?)

Secondborn decides to sneak back to the other hallway that leads back towards the bottom of the spiral ramp. (I really need to scan in the map for this to make sense, but basically he's leaving the large room that holds the goblin village by way of another passage that runs parallel to the one the group arrived through. In other words, he's randomly splitting the party again. Bear in mind, he's only seven.)

Beautiful Wife uses a cantrip to whisper that he needs to come back and join them, but Secondborn ignores this. Firstborn, however, has a pretty good sense of where this is headed, so he and Beautiful Wife head back down their own passage, pass through the spider-infested temple, and cross the base of the ramp room to the far side, where the parallel passage runs. They don't have any way of trying to track Secondborn except common sense, but since they don't see him they (rightly) assume that he's turned down the only side-passage, and catch up with him just as he's picking the lock on a door.

The door opens onto a small storage room with three chests against the far wall. Secondborn investigates (he really was the motive force in this adventure, even though he was dancing all over the kitchen while we were trying to play) and discovers that, from left to right, the chests are unlocked, locked, and locked & trapped. The unlocked chest contains folded cloth, of the same fibrous kind that formed the door on the goblin mushroom-hut. He picks the lock on the middle chest, and discovers that it contains goblin-sized arrows; he takes a few, even though they're smaller than he can really use. After a bit of work, he disarms the trap on the third chest, then manages to pick the lock.

It contains a war hammer, which Firstborn -- the strongest Elf you'll ever meet, remember -- promptly claims for his own. Beautiful Wife checks it and concludes that it's enchanted. And at that point, we stopped -- Secondborn having reached the end of his ability to sit still, and me having reached the end of my patience.

Knowing when to quit is an important skill. It's one of the things that helps keep the gaming sessions enjoyable.

Next weeks: A truly puzzled goblin, and more skeletons. And no, I still haven't managed to re-learn the details of the combat system.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Music: Dark Matter

How about some more Les Friction for your Friday morning?

The album is due out August 25, apparently.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Movie Review: Exile (2015)

So, I just finished watching Exile on Amazon Prime (because it looked interesting, and I'm still feeling kind of broke after this summer). Quick take? I liked it. I liked it a lot.

The reviews I read described it as a movie that makes up for its flaws by doing some interesting and unusual things very well. And I'd basically agree with that.

First up: genre. The film falls under the general category of "Lovecraftian Horror", with both some body horror and some touches of cosmic horror as well. This is a hard genre to do well, because (among other things) it's really hard to have a satisfying resolution when humanity is at best the pawns of vast forces far beyond our control, an at worst utterly insignificant to those forces. Exile handles this by keeping the scope somewhat smaller; we're not in Great Old Ones territory here, but something more on par with The Colour Out Of Space.

In some ways, it's a coming-of-age story, about the teenagers in the isolated desert town of Sunderland -- and by "isolated", I mean entirely surrounded by an electrified fence topped with barbed wire, with only one man authorized to leave town so that he can buy supplies in the outside world. The town is entirely dominated by The Angel, which "fell to Earth" some ten years previously. The adults of the town have all been "evolved" by the angel, a process which appears to grant them access to its eldritch wisdom but also seems to leave them vaguely lobotomized, at least some of the time. (The driver who leaves the town is the lone exception; he communicates with the Angel, but has not been evolved by it.) The children are taught to worship the Angel, and when they come of age they are given a choice: they too can evolve, or they can Fall and go to live in the wasteland outside the town (but still inside the fence).

Our protagonist, David, finds neither choice entirely satisfactory, and that's where the real conflict of the movie begins.

It is, in a lot of ways, a B movie. The acting isn't spectacular (though it isn't horrible, either) and the CGI is pretty low-quality (though this is mitigated by the fact that the movie uses it sparingly). It drags in a couple of places, as the kids struggle with concepts that the audience will already be quite familiar with. Overall, though, it works: it provides a strange vision of their existence, isolated and trapped in a town given over to the service of something entirely other, which can appear at any time to dispense justice according to its own laws. It's both disturbing and memorable, which is really about all I ask from horror movies anymore.

And if you're on Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free. So if that sounds like it might be up your alley, give it a shot.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It's time you knew the truth, Son.

Me: "I ask you, have you ever seen a more perfect pizza?"

Mommy & I, in chorus: "None. None more perfect."

Firstborn: "Was that a reference?"

Me: "Yes. But it was a pretty oblique reference."

Firstborn: "But at least I realized it was a reference."

Me: "It's also because your mother and I are telepathic aliens."

Firstborn: "Oh. Does that mean I'm a telepathic alien?"

Me: "No, you're adopted."

Firstborn: "What?"

Beautiful Wife: "You're adopted."

Me: "Stolen, actually."

Beautiful Wife: "We stole you."

Me: "So every time you've thought, 'I'll bet my real parents wouldn't treat me like this,' you were probably right."

Firstborn: "Oh. Okay."

Beautiful Wife: "Your real parents are better people than we are. Except we're not people."

Firstborn: "You're people, you're just not human."

...And that was where I broke out laughing and couldn't continue. I think we've been both complimented... and totally schooled.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Boys & D'n'D, Session 4

In this week's session, the boys continued exploring the uppermost level of the dungeon. Secondborn is enjoying his role as the character who scouts ahead, so he led them down a cross-corridor. This gave way to a staircase that led down to a door, which was locked. This gave him his very first experience at picking locks (which I don't think I handled according to the rules, in that I let him try several times - I *really* need to re-read the Player's Handbook and the Dungeonmaster's Guide in detail). Firstborn stood behind him and wondered if he would be able to break the door down if Secondborn couldn't unlock it. (Yes, he probably could have. He may be the strongest Elf you'll ever meet.)

The room at the bottom of the stairs is taller than the rest of this level (that's probably why it's sunken) and brightly lit: there's a big square of sunlight in the center. Looking up, the boys note a large square hole in the ceiling that leads up to the surface. The also notice that the ceiling around the hole, which is very dark by contrast, seems to be moving. Beautiful Wife throws some light up there, and they realize that they're looking at a pair of very large bats clinging to the ceiling.

There's some quick discussion. (Secondborn really wants to return to adventuring outside, but there's no way up to that exit unless you're a bat. Firstborn is all in favor of just backing away and closing the door behind them, which they eventually do.) The retrace their steps, then explore up the corridor to another room. This one seems empty, with a pool of water on the far side. A brief moment of panic ensues as Secondborn's Ranger/Thief steps quietly inside: large (and extremely dusty) mirrors on either end of the room give the impression of vague, shadowy figures moving on either side of him. They're quick enough to figure out what's going on, and take a quick look at the pool of water. It's a round pool, maybe ten feet across, fed on one side by a stream of water that comes out of a hole in the wall. On the other end, a small stream leaves the pool, goes about three feet, and disappears through a hole in the floor. The water seems to be clean. The group leaves without trying the water or investigating the mirrors, and discovered that they've now covered all of this level of the dungeon.

That being the case, they return to the ramp and begin their descent. Last time they came this way, they reached the bottom of the ramp undiscovered, and explored the northern passage and the spider-infested temple beyond (where they were ambushed by goblins and a hobgoblin). This time, they discover that there's a large, skeletal owlbear just standing there at the bottom of the ramp.

Firstborn, in a fit of "Let's just see" attempts to walk down the bottom of the ramp and out the nearest door (the northern one, as it happens). Unfortunately, as soon as he steps off the ramp, the owlbear turns and lumber toward him, bony feet clicking on the stone. Firstborn retreats back up the ramp; the owlbear follows to the bottom of the ramp but stops there.

Secondborn takes a shot at the skeleton with his bow, but barely nicks a rib-bone. (Skeletal creatures have damage resistance in this game, to reflect the fact they don't have any flesh and blood for weapons to connect with. Most standard attacks go right between the bones, with little or no damage.) Secondborn then decided to leap off the side of the ramp and head to the opposite side of the room, hoping to get past the skeleton that way. He leaps, lands, tumbles, and comes up safely, looking pretty badass in the process. The owlbear, however, just turns and starts towards him, and Secondborn draws his longsword.

At this point we roll for initiative. The sequence turns out to be: Firstborn, Secondborn, Owlbear, Mommy.

Firstborn takes a quick look through his spell list, but he's only a second-level druid; he doesn't have a lot to attack with. Instead, he rages. Stepping up behind the Owlbear, he smacks it with his greatsword. It staggers. Secondborn attacks also, and while he doesn't inflict anywhere near the same kind of damage, he does injure the thing. The Owlbear then swipes at him, but it misses cleanly. Mommy, meanwhile, is still up on the ramp -- which gives her a clean line of fire. She uses her face-melting spell, and sears the heck out of the skeletal monster.

Firstborn attacks again, and it's over. The owlbear skeleton collapses into a pile of scattered bones. The boys, for reasons best understood by themselves, collect a couple of the bones. (Secondborn says he wants to use it to make a bone-handled sword. Firstborn says he's keeping one as an emergency backup club, in case someone steals his greatsword.)

I call a halt at that point, because they've killed something and because I really need to stop and figure out where all this is leading.

NOTE TO SELF: You really need to figure out where all this is leading. Also, you need to read up on all the little details in the combat system. And calculate how much money the group got for selling off their loot. Also, check EXP values and see how close they all are to leveling up.

NARRATOR VOICE: Tragically, he would not manage to do any of that before the next game.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Dongles

Boss: "I need one person here and one person out there. This is the only machine that has the controller installed, and it requires a license -- you have to have a dongle."

Me: "Uh huh."

Boss: "Hey, I got rid of the dongle in the server room."

Me: "What you do with your dongle is your own business. I don't judge. I don't judge."

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Boys & D'nD, session 3

We didn't manage to play last Friday, so I played with the boys on Saturday, instead. Their mother wasn't feeling well, so she went to bed and left me to run her character (as well as the game).

After some opening consultation, the boys decided to take their treasure back to town and sell it. It was evening by the time they got back, so they returned to their houses, slept, and met up again in the morning. TheyHead Watchman Vendik agreed that they needed to finish exploring the ruin to make sure that there were no more threats down there. He offered to send a couple of guards to watch over the farmhouse while they made their explorations, and had the quartermaster equip each of the three characters with a pair of healing potions.

With that settled, the characters set off to the market and sell their loot -- mostly equipment that they took off the goblins. Most of it is sized for small humanoids, so the humans and elves that make up the majority of the town won't be able to use it; but there are small communities of both Halfling and Gnomes here, and in any case the merchants can always find a market for decent steel.

Note to self: I need to figure out how much they got for those weapons. One of the things they don't warn you about when you agree to be the Dungeonmaster is the amount of time you'll spend on that kind of prep-work and follow up. It's somewhat like being a teacher: the time you spend with the class isn't anywhere near the whole of your workload.

Anyway, the trio returns to the ruins and enters again. They stay on the top level this time, scouting down a couple of passages that they'd ignored last time in favor of the ramp. One of them has openings onto three mid-length, dead-end passages that turn out to be some sort of catacombs. Secondborn (seven years old, playing a Human Ranger/Rogue 2/2 character) goes down one of the passages, noting the skeletal remains tucked into the shelves on either side. At the end of the hall he finds a square stone block (not unlike the one in the temple they found last week, but much smaller) with a rolled-up bit of cloth or paper on the top. (It's covered in dust, so it's hard to tell.) He leaves it alone and goes back to report to the others, and I refuse to hint at whether this was an opportunity missed or a disaster avoided.

Proceeding on, the group turns a couple of corners and then encounters a doorway with soft white light coming out of it. It isn't firelight, but it's a little brighter than the light created by the lichens on the lower level. They move carefully to the door, and discover the mushroom garden: the room inside is a large square. Unlike everything else they've found so far, the floor is dirt. Neat rows of mushrooms grow -- and glow -- in the darkness. These are quite large, varying from the height of our table to the height of the kitchen ceiling (about seven feet, or a bit over two meters). Careful inspection reveals that small feet - probably goblins - have been walking up and down the rows on a regular basis, and that the mushrooms have little squares cut out of them.

The group exited the garden and proceeded on to discover the goblin bedroom, which contained some odd square fungus-beds with ugly old blankets on them. The room also contained a small chest, which Secondborn opened on his second attempt. The chest contained 2GP, 24 SP, and a particularly nice shortsword. Further examination by Beautiful Wife's character reveals that it's a Shortsword +1. There was also a vial of purple liquid of some order. Secondborn promptly claimed the sword for his character.

The characters haven't noticed yet, but if they keep this up they're going to be rich enough to make some of the merchants rightly nervous.

The group then explores the rest of the rooms, finding four of them empty, two of them overgrown by the fungus-mattresses, and one serving as a sort of large closet. Since it was getting into evening by then (even though they were underground & couldn't tell) the group elected to bed down in the goblin bedroom.

I stopped them there, because I was exhausted and not feeling entirely well myself, so it was a short game and they didn't actually kill anything. They were a little disappointed by that, but I think they'll find more action this weekend.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Story on Twitter

Using Twitter for storytelling really changes the feel, just because the character limit forces a different sense of rhythm from what I'd normally be doing.

Here it is.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thinking About Story: The Stanley Parable, Dark Souls, and Intended Play

This was posted in one of my writing groups, and it's... interesting. Possibly fascinating, depending on whether you're a writer, a gamer, and/or a roleplayer.

My first reaction -- and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this -- is: "Ah, I see you've never run a roleplaying game before." Because if there's one thing you learn in trying to run a tabletop RPG (which is *at least* as interactive as any video game, and often far more flexible) it's that however carefully and irresistibly you've crafted your next story hook, however carefully you've steered your players towards what they're supposed to next, there is *always* the chance that they'll decide to do something else entirely.

I have a modest example here...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I don't wanna be a grownup!

I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to do all the things. I just don't!

This is somewhat ironic, in that yesterday I really did want to get out of bed and Do All The Things, but I wasn't doing to well. Today, I don't want to at all... but I'm doing much better.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

It is what it is

"It is what it is." Ye gods, I hate that phrase. I have never ever, ever heard it used in the stoic/zen/philosophical sense that it's supposed to represent. I only ever hear it used to describe situations which are:
A) Stupid
B) Untenable
C) Wholly beyond the ability/authority of the speaker to fix

"It is what it is." Yeah. And what it is, is unpleasant, unnecessary, and unavoidable.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Boys & DnD - The Second Session

So, on Friday the whole family gathered around the kitchen table after dinner and we had our second session in The Great Wildly Underprepared Daddy Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Much like the first session, it was both fun... and fraught.

The first major decision that they faced was whether to go back to town and report, or whether to explore further into the hole. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn opted to return to the hole and check for signs of any further danger. Secondborn, on the other hand, expressed the fear that there might be an invisible dragon down in the dungeon, and wanted to stay on the surface and kill things and get stronger before venturing back inside.

::sigh:: I probably should have seen that coming. He's only seven, remember.

After a certain amount of mild argument, the party split up. Firstborn and Beautiful Wife returned to the dungeon entrance; Secondborn wandered off into the woods. So, I handled this the only way I could.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife checked over the place where they'd battled the goblins, then explored further back into the tunnels. One of the goblins had tried to flee, so they went in the direction that it had been running when my Beautiful Wife the Halfling Sorceress decided to immolate it. They found a connecting tunnel, did some exploring, and found an enormous pit, with a ramp circling down around the outside edge as it descended into the depths.

Secondborn found a squirrel.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife reached the bottom of the ramp and found two exits, one on each side of the circular chamber. The one on the south opened onto a passage, but since the passage was perpendicular to the exit all they could immediately see was the far wall. The one to the north went a short ways and then opened onto a much larger chamber. They elected to head that way.

Secondborn heard birds. He then spent something like 20 minutes IC climbing up a tree, spotting a nest, climbing out the branch to get to the nest, discovering that the nest was empty, and climbing back down.

The lower level, like the upper, was assembled from dressed stone. The mortar between the blocks has been overgrown with strange mushroom and some sort of phosphorescent lichen. Firstborn and Mommy decide to put out their lamps and navigate using the natural light, which is dim but sufficient. They step into the large room and attempt to survey the length of it. I have them roll Spot checks.

It's a big room, with a row of columns on each side. Off at the far end, barely visible, is some sort of dais with a dark block atop it. The first thing they notice is that the high ceiling is covered in webs, which wind around and anchor to the rows of columns as well. The second thing they notice is that there are cross-passages in the two nearest corners, one about thirty feet to their left and the other about thirty feet to their right. There's a goblin standing in the one to their right. It screams and runs away.

Meanwhile, Secondborn encounters trees.

Firstborn and my Beautiful Wife decide to investigate this room before chasing after the goblin. They proceed towards the block at the far end, and Beautiful Wife expresses her (somewhat concerned) opinion that this is, or was, some sort of temple. Secondborn, of the Human Rogue/Ranger, is the only one with any sort of Hide or Move Silently skill, so they're basically just strolling through the web-infested temple. They're about halfway down the room when Firstborn looks up and realizes that there's a rather large spider lowering itself towards the halfling sorceress's head. He pulls his dagger and flings it at the monstrosity, which is roughly the same size as the halfling it's about to eat. The spider shrieks, the halfling looks up and lets loose with a Scorching Ray, then steps calmly aside as the stabbed, burning spider plummets down to land in the spot where she'd been standing a minute before.

Secondborn decides that the forest is really, really boring, and decides to go catch up with the rest of the party. He enters, then begins following the tracks to find where his friends have gone.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife take a closer look at the webs, and realize that there are web-wrapped, mummified figures suspended up there - quite a number of them. Beautiful Wife expresses the opinion that there might have been more than one spider. While they can't make out much in the way of details because of the webbing and the poor lighting, it looks like the bodies are pretty small: the size of goblins, say... or halflings. They proceed to the back of the room, finding the dais to be made of the same rectangular-cut stones as the rest of the place, and the almost-certainly-an-altar of a single stone block. It's a little hard to be sure what sort of altar it might have been, since there are no carvings and no adornments.

However, when they circle the altar they find a larger body. Like the ones up in the webbing, it's completely covered in webs; but instead of hanging in the air, it's anchored to the back of the altar. They cut it loose, and discover that while it's human-sized, it isn't human. It looks like a human-sized goblin: a hobgoblin, in fact. Also, it has a few coins, which they promptly claim.

Secondborn has spent this time following the trail. He's found the ramp and started down it. At the bottom, he stops to look at the tracks again, then follows them into the large chamber. I ask if he's sneaking or walking normally, and he says he's just walking. So when he comes out into the main room behind the group of goblins who are attempting to corner Firstborn and the Beautiful Woman, he finds that four of them have turned to look back at him.

The band he's facing off with consists of six goblins and a hobgoblin. However, only four of the goblins have noticed him. The hobgoblin and the other two are still approaching the back of the room, intent on trapping Firstborn and Beautiful Wife, and killing them.

We roll for initiative. Secondborn rolls something obscene, just like he did in the last session, and ends up going first, with Firstborn and Beautiful Wife coming after him, followed by the goblins and finally the hobgoblin. (No, I don't have the patience to roll for the goblins individually.) Secondborn puts an arrow through one of the goblins that's looking at him, killing it, and the battle is on.

These are neither the best equipped nor the most powerful opponents. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn take cover behind the altar, and Firstborn (the Elf Barbarian/Druid) looses his viper companion to go slither up next to the pillars, which it does unnoticed. Beautiful Wife takes a shot at the hobgoblin with Scorching Ray, but between the poor lighting and the partial cover/concealment of the pillars, she misses.

The goblins finally manage to attack, inflicting a bit of damage with arrows on Secondborn's character. One of them (lacking a bow) charges in close enough to attack with its axe, but misses. The other two goblins and the hobgoblin continue to advance, using the pillars for cover. One of them takes a shot at Firstborn and Beautiful Wife, but the altar provides excellent cover and the arrow shatters against the stone wall behind them.

Secondborn (against my advice) elects to drop his bow and draw his sword, and neatly dispatches the goblin in front of him. Firstborn decides not to do anything yet, and waits beside the altar. My wife, the Halfling Sorceress, takes another shot at the hobgoblin, and this time she melts his face.

The two advance goblins continue their approach, bringing one of them into range of the viper. However, despite the advantage of surprise, it misses. The goblins attacking secondborn loose more arrows, but fail to do any damage. The hobgoblin, being dead, merely smolders.

With the immediate threat dead, Secondborn puts his sword away and retrieves his bow from the ground. The two goblins who have been sniping at him try again, but again fail to connect with him.

At the other end of the room, Beautiful Wife finds that a goblin has crept up into reasonably close range. She draws her magic dagger, throws it, and puts the goblin down. Firstborn, meanwhile, steps up to the goblin that his snake has tried to attack. His snake tries to attach it again, but again misses. However, the goblin is now flanked between Firstborn and the snake, and Firstborn cleaves it in twain with a blow from his greatsword.

Secondborn takes a shot at one of the two goblins who are shooting at him, and puts a arrow right through its eye. (Natural 20, confirmed critical.) It dies instantly, and the one remaining goblin runs away.

Well, at this point we've been playing for two hours and it's time for the boys to go to bed. They loot the goblin and hobgoblin corpses, then head back to the farm to rest again.

Overall: So far, so good. I think we're learning to stay together and work as a group. The enemies I've given them so far aren't much of a challenge, but that's fine; I'd rather err on the side of weak enemies than put them up against something that kills them all. The boys are becoming more familiar with how all this works, and we've definitely established that having the one half-elf farmer's kid fall into these dungeons has opened up a real danger for the community. More importantly, the boys are really enjoying this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Books I will almost certainly never write

I've got nothing, so instead here are some books that I will almost certainly never write:

The Maltese Space-Falcon
He's the richest and most eligible bachelor on Alpha Centauri. She's an ex-cop who's been burned one too many times. The alien artifact they're searching for could unlock the secrets of an alien civilization, or destroy their own. Or both!

High Stakes
Evie Dowling is an ordinary high school girl, but when a 4,000 year old vampire joins her senior class, she suddenly finds herself dodging magical traps, supernatural assassins, and an entire squad of vampire hunters. Now she'll have to choose between her humanity and the tempting combination of immortality, supernatural power, and incredible wealth. High Stakes: humanity doesn't stand a chance!

Heroic Destiny For Sale!
Dov spends his days being herded by goats and dreaming of heroic deeds. But when he stumbles onto the magical sword foretold by ancient prophecy, he suddenly realizes that being a hero isn't as much fun as it sounds. Now the Dark Lord's minions are trying to kill him, Princess Jerra wants to throw him in jail, and his magical talking blade just won't shut up. Dov thinks it'll be okay, though: all he has to do is get to the market at Derwhit and auction off the blade for enough money to retire on, and all his problems will be solved.

It's not about the budget, it's about the priorities

I've mentioned this before, but when someone tells that there isn't money in the budget to do something - like, say, raise salaries for teachers, hypothetically? It's almost never about the budget. It's about the priorities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Boys Try Dungeons & Dragons

So, back on Saturday I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons for the boy.

It's a little soon. I mean, Firstborn is eleven, which is plenty old enough; but Secondborn is still seven, which is well below the intended player age for Ad&D. He did pretty well, despite his age and despite the part where we really didn't have a lot of visual aids.

We're playing in 3.5, because honestly:
A) That's the most recent version that I'm familiar with - I never really tried 4 or 5.
B) It's a good, reasonably balanced and playable system.
C) You can make it as simple or as complex as you like, relatively speaking.

For now, we're sticking with simple. Or... mostly simple. The boys have complicated things, all by themselves. And I've also discovered that, as much as I like to think of myself as a veteran Game Master (or Dungeon Master, as Firstborn just reminded me) it's been years since I played, and I've actually forgotten huge chunks of the rules. So I'm... well.. winging it. Specifically, I'm filling in the actual combat system with the "this seems reasonable" system, at least until I can read back through and wrap my mind around the system.

So let's talk about boys complicating things. I let everybody start at fourth level, because first level characters die ridiculously easily. So both of the boys immediately decided to go with split-class characters.

Firstborn has decided to play a Elvish Barbarian/Druid, which is odd but viable. He's taken a viper for his animal companion, and he's set up to be a fairly reasonable front-line fighter, who can then fall back and heal people when the battle is over.

Secondborn went with a Human Ranger/Rogue split, apparently with the intention to sneak up reasonably close and then snipe people with arrows. This is, again, odd but viable.

Beautiful Wife said she'd fill in anything that would round out the party's skillset, so she's a Halfling Sorceress with an owl for her animal companion. She has one really good attack spell, and some useful/defensive secondary spells, plus a magic dagger that she can throw; her job is to hang back and use ranged attacks, or to do the talking and negotiating for the group.

That left me in need of, you know, a setting and an actual adventure, but I think we're off to a pretty good start. The characters all know each other, and more or less grew up together - at least in the same town. They grew in the free town of Morendell, which is out in the southwestern edge of the great forest. It's an area that the human kingdoms generally consider to be part of the elven kingdoms, but that the elves consider to be outside of their demesne. Elves come there to trade with humans in a reasonably comfortable environment; humans come there to trade with elves without having to actually travel into the deep forest. The population is approximately 40% elves and 40% humans, with maybe 8% being half-elves and the remainder being dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and everybody else. It's a walled city, with a ring of farms outside the walls and the forest beyond the farms. Our heroes are a special unit of the guards, who patrol - or at least sort of check in with - the outlying settlements: the farmer, trappers, woodcutters, and etc. who live outside the walls and out in the forest.

For our first adventure, I introduced the human Chief Guard, Vendik (Fighter, lvl 7 - we're not hugely advanced around here). He's about halfway between a sheriff and a police chief, but he's well organized and keeps the city safe. He's also the one who recruited the PCs and set them to patrolling the outlying settlers. Vendik was waiting with one of the outliers, a half-elf farmer named Berrin. Berrin explained that his kids had been playing in the woods a couple of weeks back when one of them fell through the forest floor. The kids were smart: one of them waited with the one who fell, while the third went back to get help. Berrin and his wife came back with rope, and they pulled the kid out.

Since then, though, they'd been hearing noises in the night. They thought something was prowling through the woods and watching the farm. So Berrin had come into town, to get the guard to come have a look and tell them whether they were really in danger, or whether they were just scaring themselves.

Vendik told the PCs to skip their patrol of the eastern settlements, and look into this instead; then he told Berring that the PCs would take care of him, and went back to his office.

...And we were off.

One of the complications that came up immediately was that Secondborn (who is only seven, remember) didn't realize that being a ranger made him the tracker for the party. They got to the farm immediately, but it was quiet and when they went to put their horses in the barn they found that something had cut its way into the chicken coup, killed the chickens, and probably carried them off. Once the ranger realized he could track things, he identified the prints as small boots, and the party set out to follow the trail.

Unsurprisingly, the trail led to the hole that Berrin's child had fallen into. It wasn't a cave, or at least not exactly; the edges of the hole, and the fallen stones, were clearly clean-cut rectangular blocks. After a bit of consultation, the group descended into the hole, and immediately discovered that they were in a large-ish room, still mostly covered, with a doorway at the far end. Also, the Druid/Barbarian was just sure there was something else down there, even though nobody else could hear anything.

The Ranger/Rogue began to scout ahead, but the Halfling Sorceress got impatient and sent her familiar owl on ahead. The owl grew concerned and came flapping back, and all of a sudden everybody could hear harsh, guttural voices up ahead somewhere. So the Ranger/Rogue snuck up the hall, around a couple of corners, and looked in through a doorway. By then he could smell both smoke and cooking meat.

Looking in, he saw a large room, with pillars to support the ceiling, and a fire in the middle. There were three goblins sitting on stone blocks around the fire, and a pot cooking over it. He ducked back when one of the goblins looked at the doorway, and went back to report to the others.

They moved up to the nearest turn in the hallway, and the ranger/thief decided that he was going to sneak into the room and take the goblins by surprise. He crept silently down the hall, reached the doorway, and started around it. That was exactly the moment when he realized that there was a goblin sneaking around the corner in an exact mirror of his own plan. For a moment they just stood there, staring at each other. Then we rolled initiative.

Secondborn rolled something obscene - a 19, I think, which combined with his Dexterity bonus and Improved Initiative to let him go first at 24. Firstborn was next, and then the Beautiful Wife. The goblins rolled poorly, and all came after the Player Characters.

So Secondborn jumped back, I guess because he was startled, and pulled his longsword. (Never mind that he's an archery specialist; he's seven years old, he's startled, and by the gods he's going to beat things down with a sword.) The goblin, meanwhile, yells loudly to alert its companions.

Firstborn and Secondborn move to flank the door, leaving Beautiful Wife a little ways back down the hallway. The goblin is still there in the doorway, and Secondborn attacks with his sword - not a one-hit kill, but a one-hit KO which is good enough. Firstborn spots the goblins by the fire and charges one of them. This leaves him open to the fourth goblin, who was hiding just inside the doorway, but that goblin misses and Firstborn reaches his target and essentially cuts him in half. He's raging, of course, as only a barbarian can - and while his skin hasn't turned green, that elf suddenly looks a lot larger and more muscular.

Beautiful wife advances to the doorway, and sights the other goblin beside the fire. She lets loose with her one offensive spell, and immolates him. Like, he bursts into flames and then dissolves into ash. This, I suppose, is the advantage of taking a single-class character.

The one remaining goblin decides to dodge past the characters in the doorway, and race off into the deeper darkness down the other branch of the hallway. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite manage it, and Secondborn sticks a broadsword in his kidney but doesn't quite kill him.

When the next round starts, Secondborn decides to let the goblin go. Apparently, he's having second thoughts about wantonly murdering sentient beings over stolen chickens. Firstborn's character yells "Let it go!" for the slightly more sophisticated reason that he wants to chase it and find out where it was trying to go.

Beautiful Wife's character immolates it anyway, either because she's tired and cranky or because halflings are nasty like that.

After some prodding and some consultation, the characters decide to head back to the farm, put their horses in the barn (under guard) and bring Berrin and his family up to speed.

So... I think we have a good start. The characters have a decent base of operations (the city, and to a lesser extent the farm). The boys have had a decent introduction to the system and how it works. They've kept the farm safe and found out what got into the chicken coop. If they don't decide to explore the dungeon on their own, I'll have their commander order them to make sure it's safe.

More importantly, I think everybody enjoyed it -- even the Beautiful Wife, who spent a fair amount of the game looking at FaceBook. Firstborn is thrilled; he's actually asked if, once this adventure is done, he can try being the dungeon master. (For the record, I said: "Sure, but you have to realize that it's a lot more work than it looks like.") Secondborn did amazingly well for something that requires sustained focus, and I think had a good time as well. Beautiful Wife was less enthused at the outset, but she did get into it -- and, again, she's not feeling entirely well, which makes it hard to really dig in on something like this.

I've offered to take the boys to the local gaming store tomorrow, and let everyone choose their own dice, if they'd make a reasonable effort to go to bed. This, they've done. I may let them pick out figurines for their characters, too, if we can find anything suitable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Love is a Many-Translated Thing

So I've been thinking about that "if you receive a friend request from Steve Miller" meme that's going around, and... yes, I know thinking about it was my first mistake... Anyway, I've wondering about speaking with the pompatus of love. Is there, like, a Rosetta Stone program for that? Maybe Duolingo? 'Cause I think "fluent in the pompatus of love" would be a great addition to my resume.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A brief snippet of Urok...

Opening Paragraph:
Urok set his mug on the laquered wooden table and sighed. He'd wanted to see the town of Merchuk, and now he had. He'd wanted to have some human-brewed ale, and he'd done that too. He'd used up the coins that old Salvain had paid him for cutting wood and hauling stones. It was time to head back into the grasslands.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Self-Maintenance & Boy Conversations

Nothing for this morning, really. We finally got some news at work, but that's still going to play out however it plays out; I'm still writing, but that's also going to play out however it plays out. The boys are still awesome, though:
Beautiful Wife has noticed (and she is not alone in this) that Secondborn tends, when hungry, to be a bit... cranky. Irritable. Rage-prone. Homicidal. Unfortunately, he gets this from both sides. Fortunately, once fed, he morphs back into the sweetest little dude imaginable, and is all ready to tell EVERYBODY just how much he loves them, which is a lot. It's almost like Gremlins, except that the Mogwai only changes if you *don't* feed it, and if you do feed it then it changes back.

Beautiful Wife: "Man. When Secondborn hits puberty, it's going to be like a series of nuclear bombs."

Firstborn (who is eleven, and speaking in the most sardonic voice imaginable): "We're going to need a bunker."
So that much, at least, is still right with the world. And yeah, my family is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.

Oh, and also:
Firstborn: "I have decided that I will do Orchestra instead of Band when I start Middle School next year."

Me: "Now we see the violins inherent in the system."

Firstborn: "What?"

Me: "What?"
Meanwhile, I'm reminding myself yet again why basic self-care is so critical to writing and any other sort of creative endeavor (and critical to Not Getting Sick as well). I'm supposed to be a grown-up. You'd think I could remember that, but... no, apparently not. ::sigh::

Anything fun or exciting happening with you, gentle readers? Consider this an open thread.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Gifs of Life

Friend on Facebook is all like, "Using only a gif, tell me what you do for a living."


Monday, July 10, 2017

Another Old Project

So, last Saturday I got to play Dungeons & Dragons again, for the first time in... I don't know. Fifteen years? At a guess?

It was fun. It was good to be with friends. It was definitely not the sort of campaign I'm used to -- I'm pretty sure my character showed up just in time to help the other characters take over a drug cartel, for example. Fortunately, my character is both Chaotic Neutral and Not That Bright, so he doesn't have to be terribly concerned about it.

I'm playing a half-Orc druid, which means that I have two basic roles in the party. Basically, I hang back and summon animals to fight for us. Then, if I have any spells left, I heal anybody who needs it. So far, it's worked amazingly well. And since we're pretty low-level, my animal companion is the toughest thing in the party. He's a wolf. I call him "Puppy."

...All of which has gotten me thinking about an old character that I wanted to write about: Urok, the half-Orc barbarian. And I'm considering taking Urok and his soon-to-be-found friends, and posting bits of his story here once a week as a regular feature.

I've tried this before, with mixed results. It does help me keep things going, but sometimes I end up posting things that really aren't ready to be part of the story or desperately need to be revised (or abandoned). Several of my other blogs (mostly neglected, if we're being honest about this) were intended for this sort of use.

But... I'm also beginning to think that I need to be rotating several projects at the same time if I'm going to make progress on any of them. In my teens, I'd focus on a single project and just write it, but that was thirty years ago and my life was very different then. So taking a break to generate the next scene for Urok at least once a week might be just the break I need.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sales Calls To Our House

Beautiful Wife: "They say these sales callers aren't personal, but it turns out you can get them there."

Me: "I'm not sure that provoking them to the point of homicidal hatred is the best way to establish a personal connection with people."

Beautiful Wife: "But it does work!"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Friday, June 30, 2017

Clean Teeth

The scene: evening, bedtime. I wander into the living room, looking for boys so I can tell them to get in bed. Firstborn is sitting on the couch, fiddling with his Kindle Fire. Secondborn has ninja'd himself into invisibility by hiding under the table. Beautiful Wife, like Firstborn, is on the couch.

Me: "Ah, good. There is Firstborn. Now, if only I could find Secondborn."

Beautiful Wife: "He is brushing his teeth."

Me: "I was just coming to tell him to brush his teeth. I will look for him in the bathroom."

I leave the living room and look in the bathroom. It is, of course, empty. Secondborn is a righteous ninja, but he hasn't actually mastered teleportation yet.

Me: "He is not brushing his teeth!"

I return to the living room.

Firstborn: "You sound like a character from an Elephant and Piggie book."


Firstborn: "I have given you too many ideas, and by that I mean 'one'."

Callahan's Friday Pun: Royalty

Me: "Do you have any idea what it's like being the king?"

Beautiful Wife, looking suspiciously at the pool ring on my head: "...No..."

Me: "It's a very unpeasant experience."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I am... tired. Beyond tired, even. I'm just kind of *done*. I have no focus, I have no enthusiasm, I'm impatient but not because there's anything I particularly want to *do*. In fact, it's kind of the opposite: I just want to stop doing things. I want this day to be over. I want my job to be over.

I'm not suicidal. I don't want to leave my family. I'm just... I deeply tired of being tired. I'm deeply tired of being discouraged. I'd like to have some motivation back. I'd like to have some energy. I'd like to have some sense of morale.

If I'm about to get sick, then I'd like to just run a fever (or whatever) and get it over with. I don't think that's it, though. I just want everyone to shut up and go away for a few days. Which is kind of a problem, since I'm parent to two pre-teen children and since my wife seems to be in just about the same place I am, emotionally speaking. And, honestly, when I wrote this the boys were doing a lovely job of entertaining themselves; it's just that I can hear one boy's YouTube videos and the other boy's video game, and I want it all to stop.

I swear, I used to enjoy things. I used to have hobbies. I used to be able to finish things, at least every once in a while.

Right now, though -- and I'm going to set this to publish later, not just after I finished writing it, so with any luck none of you will read it until after I'm somewhat recovered -- right now I don't want to do any of it. I just want to bury myself in the earth for fifty years, like one of Ann Rice's vampires, or plug myself into cryosleep for a century-long trip to another planet. I want to turn into a statue and wait until the proper alignment of the stars recalls me to life and movement.

I want to stop needing to do all the things that right now I still need to do.

Instead, I'm going to put the boys down to bed. And in the morning I'll wake them up and I'll go to work again. I'll even pretend I care about what I'm doing there, though I don't guarantee it'll be convincing.

And I think... I hope... that I'll start looking for some way to make a change. Because I think it's vital, especially in a mood like this, to remind myself that things really can get better. And maybe if I act like it, I'll start to believe it again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unstructured Time

So, we're making selections from a list of "vital needs" - the things you need to have in your life in order to be happy, or at least satisfied. Firstborn has just finished looking them over.

Firstborn: "What is unstructured or structured time?"

Me: "Structured time is time with planned activities. Unstructured time is time when you get to do what you want."

Firstborn: "Oh."

Me: "Like, I have unstructured time. Maybe I'll play some video games. Maybe I'll take a bath. Or maybe I'll read a book. Or maybe I'll run down the street naked with a piece of fried chicken in each hand."

Beautiful Wife: "Don't run down the street naked with a piece of chicken in each hand. That's illegal."

Me: "There's a fine line between 'unstructured' and 'illegal'."

Firstborn: "...And running down the street in a bathrobe would be right on that line."

Me: "Exactly. Running down the street naked would be waaaay over it."

Firstborn: "An uneaten piece of fried chicken in each hand!? That's way over the line!"

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Being Cherished Is Harder Than Jello

Woke up this morning & came out to the living room to find that everyone had curled up on the couch. I sat down on one end and was immediately snuggled by both boys. Firstborn then offered one of his massages, so I got myself stretched out... and the Secondborn and the Beautiful Woman joined in.

My friends, I feel positively cherished. I mean, it is a truly awesome Saturday morning when the first thing that happens is megaboysnuggles, and the second thing that happens is that the entire family joins in make sure you feel good.

Then, as he was working on my legs, Firstborn discovered just how knotted my calves were. (I keep a lot of my tension in my calves apparently. This is exacerbated by having an extremely sedentary desk job.) "Wow!" he exclaimed, or something to that effect. "Daddy's calves are harder than Jello!"

And that really just broke us all up. I'm laughing, the Beautiful Woman is laughing, even Firstborn starts laughing. Secondborn leaps to my defense with, "Maybe we should say--" but Firstborn waves him off.

"My metaphors need work," Firstborn explains.

Well, that may be -- I mean, I know how he meant it, it just didn't come out quite right -- but even so, the next time I feel like being really snarky about something, I am so going to find some way to work the phrase "stronger than Jello" into the conversation.

Friday, June 23, 2017

LED Eyelashes

I may have observed before that an awful lot of what passes for fashion is apparently just a concerted effort to make clothing way more difficult than it should be. This, however, takes it to a whole new level: I can't even imagine wearing these. They look like the most annoying thing in the world.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Out to Lunch

Me: "Okay, I'm going to lunch. If I'm not back in an hour... call the President."

Me, a moment later: "On second thought, the President's an idiot. Don't call the President. Call..."

Me: "Ummmm..."

Co-worker: "Yeah, I'm not coming up with anybody up there that I'd care to call, either."

Me: "National Guard. If I'm not back in an hour, call the National Guard. They can probably still figure out how to get things done."

Co-worker: "Deal."

My filter is just gone, y'all. It's sailed off to the Caribbean and I don't think it's coming back.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Annnd we're back

We've gone on the Great Family Odyssey to Tennessee, and returned alive if not entirely unscathed. Though we tried to squeeze as much vacation out of it as possible, this has definitely been more of a family gathering than an actual vacation. And it's been a curious mix of splendid fun and horrifying ordeal. And I may come back and explain all that, but...

It's Sunday night.
We just got in today at about four o'clock.
My head hurts.
I have no energy.
I have no brain.
I really need about three days to recuperate and get everything back in order.
I have to be at work tomorrow.


On top of everything else, I have this jagged little cut/bruise/thing on my forehead. (I'll be delighted to tell you any number of fanciful stories about how I got it. My personal favorite is the one about the rogue packs of mutant grizzly bear that roam the Arkansas hills, and how I had to head-butt one of them while they were trying to climb in through the window of our fourth-floor hotel room.) I suppose it might look cool if I was younger, but somehow "The Middle-Aged Man Who Lived" just doesn't have the same cachet, y'know?


Here's a picture of the boys in the one cave we managed to visit:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Under The Waterfall...

So, we took the boys hiking...

When we got down to the waterfall... No, let me back up a little bit. It's a decent hike, but the waterfall itself is one of those places that figures prominently in both my personal history and my even-more-personal mental landscape. The water comes out between two layers of sandstone, and tumbles down to an intermediate shelf, and then falls down another thirty feet or so into a pit and vanishes. There's no stream leading to it; there's no stream leading away from it. The water appears at the top, drops, then drops again and disappears.

Moreover, if you've followed the trail down then you've likely come out facing it from the intermediate level, but on the far side of the pit. So there you are, firmly on the earth, watching a waterfall that begins Above and ends Below. It has a very World Tree feel for me; it always has. It feels like it's connecting the realms, or at least it should be.

So when we got there, the boys took a few minutes to admire it, then noticed the little hole off to the far side: the one that looks like it would allow you to get down into the pit without having to scale wet limestone walls. Which is... mostly true. Naturally, they asked if they could go down there. Which was... mostly possible.

So I climbed down myself, making strategic use of a couple of logs that had fallen (or been shoved) into the hole. Then I had the boys ease over the edge so that I could grab them and lower them down.

Then they proceeded down the slope to the bottom of the pit.

All of this went perfectly well. We found a frog down there, and then a turtle. I even had them stop and pose for a picture together.

Then, we climbed back up. Well... Sort of.

The thing is, neither of them is tall enough to reach the holds needed to get back out. So I took Secondborn, showed him where to put his foot when he was high enough, and lifted him back up to the shelf, until he could find some handholds and push up with that foot. Then I grabbed Firstborn, who is substantially heavier; he ended up using my shoulder as a step, which was basically fine. Then it was time to get myself back out.

This was... more of a challenge. The handholds and footholds are there. Getting myself positioned so that I could use the ones I needed took a bit of preparation. Actually hauling/pushing myself out with them required what we used to call "a metric fuck-ton" of effort. So while I'd been doing fine on the hike itself, this was the strain that let me know that I'd finally really overdone it.

But, I made it out. Then I sat on a fallen log for about five minutes while my heart rate slowed, my breathing caught up, and my energy made half-hearted promises about someday coming back to me. I sat there with my head swimming and my guts hurting in that peculiar way that overexertion sometimes brings. It didn't help that I was at a higher altitude than I'd been in quite some time, or that the air was a lot more humid than I was acclimated to; but if we're being completely honest, neither of those things would have been much of a problem if I wasn't forty-mumble-mumble years old and if my cardio wasn't so bad. But I sat, and I recovered, and after a few minutes we started back towards the head of the trail.

The hike back up was almost, but not quite, entirely uphill.


Firstborn, meanwhile, for reasons that deserve a blog post of their very own, made the entire hike without needing a break and was ready for more at the end of it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Puerto Rico As Our 51st State

It seems that Puerto Rico has voted in favor of statehood. This is going to be a contentious issue, for several reasons. First up is that while the vote was overwhelmingly in favor -- like, 97% in favor -- only 23% of the population turned out to vote. (That's low enough to make state-dwelling American voters seem positively civic-minded by comparison.) Secondarily, Puerto Rico can't simply declare itself a full state; that has to be approved by Congress, and the sheer amount of crass political calculation that will go into such a decision staggers the imagination.

Possibly the biggest problem, though, is this: even if those hurdles were overcome, where would we put the fifty-first star on the flag? I mean, right now we're all neat rows of little white stars. An additional star would totally throw off the arrangement.

Well, I can't help with either of the first two issues, but I do have a solution for the big one. Here's my design for our brand new flag, one which would incorporate all fifty-one states and make a clear statement to the international community about who we are as a nation. In an excess of humility, I have decided to call it New Glory:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Tale From The Borderlands...

Right, so:

One of the funny little things that I enjoyed about Borderlands 2 is that at various obscure points in the landscape, you find spots where the inhabitants of Pandora have set out chairs in improbable places: beside lakes full of threshers, on the edges of cliffs... it's just such a bizarre-and-yet-believable thing for people to do.

So... What did I find today, whilst exploring the area where we're currently staying (which is on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, if I failed to mention that earlier)? You guessed it:
I mean, I didn't see any threshers, but then we found this:
...So I'm thinking I should make sure I've equipped my best shield and a good array of weaponry in case of bandit attacks... or in case we find a Vault.

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 2017 Writing Resources

1. Jennifer Crusie discusses Protagonist/Conflict/Antagonist and formulating a one-sentence story premise to keep your writing on track.

2. Over at Black Gate, Tina Jens discusses a revised character sheet to help you really get to know your characters in detail.

3. Lydia Schoch discusses The Seven Deadly Sins Of Writing, which are also worth thinking about in terms of their corresponding virtues.

For myself, I've been spending a lot of time cogitating on opening lines and opening scenes, and what kind of promises they make to my readers. I'm thinking specifically in terms of the projects that I'm working on (in no small part because one of the projects continues to frustrate me on precisely these grounds: I can't seem to find a satisfactory jump-off point).

Taking my cue from the Jennifer Crusie article above, I think my premise looks something like this:
A member of the City Watch joins forces with a renegade outlander to try to break the curse that has plunged the city into darkness, plagues, and monsters.

So my current options for opening lines look something like this:
  • Somber made his escape well before dawn on the last day of the harvest festival, when everyone by rights should have been asleep.
  • Maija had been drinking steadily for two hours when the disaster began.
  • Somber hadn't intended to do anything other than get out of the city as quickly as possible, but the boy's arm was broken and there was nobody else around.
  • Maija took three long swallows of her drink, then settled back on the bench. It was the last night of Harvest, and she was with her friends in their favorite restaurant, out on the balcony that overlooked the square. Alcohol, food, and good company were finally conspiring to help her relax.

Those are four different approaches, starting with two different characters (Maija is the Warden of the City Watch, Somber is the renegade outlander) and building from very different aspects of their personalities and situations. They offer different access points to the story. They make different promises to the reader. They set different expectations.

I think it's time to pick one, and go with it.

...And I think I'd like to write out a setup like this for at least one other current project, maybe two.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Love and Tea in 2017

Relationships are different. Relationships are different because people are different. But if you're going to write a magazine-article fluff-piece, you pretty much have to ignore that and pretend that the particulars of your individual, idiosyncratic relationship are actually Grand Universal Truths -- regardless of how silly that makes you sound, and regardless of the actual state of your actual current relationship. So here goes:

Hot Tea
Hot Tea is the foundation of a good relationship, a stable marriage, and solid parenting skills. If you're the first person to get up in the morning, make tea for your spouse. This will show your undying love for each other, strengthen the bonds of your marriage, and provide a stable footing for raising your children.

If you're still just dating, take your significant other out on a tea date. Try new teas. Introduce them to your favorites. Order custom teas, and use funny-shaped diffusers to brew your cups of tea. There's nothing more charming than tea, and nothing more likely to make someone fall hopelessly in love with you than a tea date.

If your kids can be trusted with the responsibility, show them how to brew tea! It'll make them feel useful, and you get tea! There's no downside. Kids! Tea! Awesomeness!

Make hot tea a central part of your relationships and your life. A relationship that doesn't share tea isn't worth having.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Weird Dreams and Travel Plans

I was remarking the other day that lately I don't seem to remember my dreams the way I used to. I don't know if my dreams are less vivid (since I don't remember them, obviously), but it's been a fairly distinct trend. Some of it, I think, is just that I'm getting older... but I'm increasingly convinced that a big chunk of it is spending way too much of my time way too tired.

As if to make up for it, I slept hard last night, had bizarre dreams and actually remembered them.

So, first: the setting was this massive ivy-league university with the most incredibly gothic architecture imaginable. Kind of like Marburg, but on an even larger scale. (It actually reminds me of some of the settings in Bloodborne, only better lit and populated by students and professors instead of townspeople who are descending into madness and monstrosity.)

This part is almost certainly related to our travel plans: my family and I are going to be out of town next week, so visiting this sprawling, epic-scale place is perfectly in keeping with that. (On a related note, I probably won't be posting much of anything while we're gone.)

I have no idea where my pants went, but that part of the dream is almost certainly tied to the way this week has been going: chaotic, disorganized, and full of unexpected crises.

What I'm really puzzled by, though, is this: why did we have a tied-up neo-nazi in the back seat?

Yeah, that was part of the dream too. And no, I have no idea.

Monday, June 5, 2017

An impromptu essay on the appeal of the superhero mythology...

Composed on Twitter. There are probably ways to compile it and post it here (and feel free to suggest them), but for the moment I'm just going to create a link. It's here, and it begins like this:

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sorry about that last post...

I really just needed to get that off my chest. Unfortunately, that was really the only way I could publish those observations. So, thank you all for not-reading the invisible text.

How about some invisible music to make up for it?

Linkin Park:

Skylar Grey:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music: The Garden of Earthly Delights & World On Fire

courtesy of Apocalypse Orchestra:

This is the kind of stuff I listen to when I'm writing -- not always, but often.

If that didn't quite do it for you, maybe try Les Frictions with World On Fire?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Unattributed Quote That's Currently On my Mind

"I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say... and I will be your slave."


Go ahead.

Unpack that one.

(It's not really unattributed, of course. If you don't recognize it -- and I'd bet most of you do -- then a quick search on Google or even YouTube will give you the source.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Boys, the Sea, and the Little Fishes

So, I've been reading Terry Pratchett's The Sea And The Little Fishes to the boys at bedtime.

Secondborn really enjoys it. He's seven, and he likes being read to sleep. I think it's partly just having the sound of words all around him -- he's an intensely auditory child -- and partly knowing that there's nothing happening without him, that everything important that's happening is happening right there on his bed. But he'll listen to me read and pass out in, I don't know, ten or fifteen minutes. Left on his own, by contrast, he can easily take an hour or more to fall asleep.

Firstborn, of course, gets it in some ways that his younger brother doesn't yet. He's ten, and cultivating his own deadpan, sardonic approach to humor.

So I'm reading along in the story, and I get to this part:
Letice had what Nanny thought of as a deliberate walk. It had been wrong to judge her by the floppy jowls and the overfussy hair and the silly way she waggled her hands as she talked. She was a witch, after all. Scratch any witch and…well, you’d be facing a witch you’d just scratched.
At this point I notice that Secondborn has fallen asleep, so I stop there and close the book.

Firstborn looks over at me from the top bunk. "Scratch any witch, and you'd be facing a witch you'd just scratched," he repeats. Then he adds: "Probably as a chicken. Or a frog."

Yup. This one's coming along nicely.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Under Warranty?

Can you tell if by any miraculous chance, the iPad with Serial # XXXXXXXXXXXX is still under warranty?

Apple Store:
Coverage has run out on this item. Is there an issue we can help with?

Me (knowing that it's an iPad 4 that was bought back in 2013 or thereabouts):
I am wholly, entirely, completely, utterly, and in all other ways unsurprised by that, but thank you for checking.

There isn't what I'd call an issue. I think the only thing that can be done for the device at this point is to give it a decent burial, and (after a suitable period of mourning) replace it with something less... mangled.

Apple Store:
I’m so sorry that is happening. Please let us know if you need anything else as we are here to help always.

It's okay. I have it on good authority that iPad brought this terrible fate on itself through a life of reckless extravagance and poor moral judgement. It seems inevitable that it would have come to such a bad end.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Conjuration in the Real World

I realize that most people don't believe in magic, or at least think they don't; to convince you that it's real, I'd like to present you with a spell I cast successfully just this past weekend:

Me: {admiring nice, clean, shiny car}
Me: "Yep, sure is a good thing I got the car washed."
The Sky: {Rumbles Ominously}
The Sky: {Loud Crack of Thunder}
The Sky: {Begins Raining}

Monday, May 22, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Financial Transparency in Municipal Government

Heh. You ready for another personal theory? Here goes:

The biggest bar to financial transparency for a municipal government isn't the desire to keep the public (or even the self-appointed watchdogs thereamong) from knowing what their employees make. Government employees -- especially at the city and county level -- really don't make that much.

No, the biggest bar to financial transparency for a municipal government is the desire to keep the employees from knowing what the other employees are making.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Not even The Shadow knows...

Co-worker: "So, why are we doing this, exactly?"

Other Co-worker: "Not even The Shadow knows."

Me: "To be fair, The Shadow only knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. The IT Strategic Plan is much more confusing than that."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Monologue from the isolated cabin where my college friends and I are having a party

I'd be a big help in a horror movie. It comes of sending out helpdesk emails.

"Okay, look. Just... try not to get too drunk. That creepy guy with the axe is still out there in the woods. I know the cabin's secure and nobody's been murdered yet, but we all know it's coming, right? Just take precautions. That's all I'm saying."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reading Suggestions

Some stories for you to enjoy and/or explore (preferably at home - I make no promises that any of these are safe to read at work, or in front of elderly or impressionable family members).

Sun, Moon, Dust
They Will Take You From You
Say, She Toy (Big Time Trigger Warnings on this one, folks.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Another Odd Memory

My mother once told me that when I was much, much younger - in my first decade of life, though she didn't phrase it that way - that she used to arrange for me to have a friend over. Now, this friend was almost exactly my age; he was the son of my Godmother, one of my mom's oldest and closest friends, and was born just barely over a month before I was. Both of us were oldest siblings in our families, too.

So it helps, I think, to remember that this is someone I grew up with.

Anyway apparently my mom would set up these afternoons for Childhood Friend to come over and play with me. And he'd come over, and we'd play... for a while. Then I'd get tired of him, and go off to play by myself. Apparently he would then go and complaint to my mom that I wouldn't play with him, and she'd explain that there wasn't much she could do about that, and... I don't know. I don't know what the next step was, whether she would give him something to do or send him back to find something to play with on his own, or what. Maybe she'd just call his parents and tell them it was time to come pick him up?

Like I said, I don't know.

But this kid would come over to play, and we'd play, and then after a while I was done interacting and I'd go play by myself.

I think that really tells you all you need to know about what I was like as a kid.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Vital Importance Of Kettle Corn

So I pick up the boys and bring them home, while the Beautiful Wife arranges to pick up pizza and catch us up there. Since I'm not sure how long this will take and when we'll actually I have food, I hand each of the boys a plate with some Kettle Corn on it.

"Since I'm not sure when Mommy will get here with the pizza, here's some kettle corn to hold you over," I tell them.

"...And this is why I love growing up in this family," Firstborn tells me.

Secondborn then takes his plate out into the back yard with him. He returns a few minutes later with the empty plate.

"Can I have some more?" he asks.

"No," I tell him. "Not unless you were attacked by a flock of crows who ate all the kettle corn off your plate."

"Oh," he says. "Yes. That's exactly what happened."

"My goodness!" I exclaim.

He turns back to look at me. "No, I'm kidding!"

I give him an extra handful of kettle corn anyway, after explaining that his answer was hilarious.

Then the Beautiful Wife arrives, and we all sit around eating pizza and discussing tardigrades.

Monday, May 8, 2017

When Daddy Sings, The Whole World Cringes

Me, in the car, singing loudly:
I came in like a Taco Bell
I ate and I don't feel so well
The grease has gone into my gut
Things soon will come out of my butt

Beautiful Wife: "Did you hear that somewhere, or did you come up with those lyrics yourself."

Me: "I came up with them myself."

Beautiful Wife: "I'm so proud."

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Okay, how can I watch Guardians of the Galaxy and the opening is fine, but I watch Spring and the dude losing his mom in the first three minutes utterly wrecks me?

I know I'm late to the party, but it's actually a really good movie - part romance, part horror, part science fiction. If you haven't seen it yet, see it. Whatever you think it is, it won't be what you expect.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Ash Knight Scene 4

It was just past dawn when someone knocked on his door. Edrin had been readying himself to sleep, but he'd half-expected some sort of interruption and hadn't settled in yet.

"Yes?" He opened the the door a crack, found the custodian looking in at him, and opened it the rest of the way.

"Two men tried to break into my rooms last night," the custodian said without preamble. "I need to know if you stopped them." He looked at Edrin, swallowed, then added: "I won't speak of it. But I need to know, for my own mind."

Edrin shrugged and stepped back. "Yes," he said. "You told me it doesn't happen here. If I have my say, it doesn't happen here."

"They belonged to the Plague Dogs," the custodian said, crossing to one of the bare wooden stools that had come with the room. He seated himself upon it, then turned to face Edrin again. His face was pale, and there were dark circles under his eyes. "They would have taken the rents, everything I need to keep this building in even this poor repair, and everything I owe to its proper owner."

Edrin spent a moment considering that. This was supposed to be a hiding place while he tormented the church in hope of reforming it, but that didn't mean he could ignore what went on here. "The Plague Dogs are a problem? Or will be, now?"

"If you are what I think you are," said the custodian carefully, "I don't want to know. Better they think the building is haunted -- and from the sound of them, they do. But that won't keep them from looking, or from seeking some sort of revenge."

Edrin nodded. "You sent those two back?"

The custodian nodded. "Naturally. Two men, injured in my building and calling for their friends? Of course I helped them."

"Tell me about the Plague Dogs," Edrin said quietly. "Tell me where to find them."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Theory on Teams

I have a hypothesis. I'm not sure exactly when I started developing it (or when it went from a sneaking, subliminal suspicion to an actual hypothesis), but over the years I've come to believe more and more strongly that it's true.

It seems to me that any time you have a good, solid, working organization, there are one or two core people who are holding the whole thing together. As long those one or two people are involved, the team will hold together even if other members come and go (though there's also likely to be less turnover as long as that key person/those key people are in place).

Now, so far that doesn't sound like much of a revelation. In fact, it sounds like the opening line from any number of Business Leadership books and articles.

The thing is, the key people for any given team -- and this can be a company, a department, a church... almost anything, really, as long as it has some organization and some goals. The thing is, the key people for any given team aren't necessarily the ones in charge. They can be, but they don't have to be. They can be the ones who make the consistent good suggestions for how something should work, or the ones who help other people explain what they're trying to do so everyone understands it. They can be the ones who have a solid vision for what they're trying to do and how best to get there (which is usually, but not always, the formal leadership). Sometimes they're just the person who follows up and keeps track and makes sure everything gets done.

This is how you can change out a CEO without much changing the way a business works, but lose the head designer for the same company and have the whole business ready to collapse within a year. This is how you can have someone apparently innocuous retire (a good, solid employee, but nothing special) and end up having to hire two or three or four people to take over their duties. And this is how having one person leave can make an entire team completely dissolve.

It's not leadership, exactly; or at least, it isn't always what people think of as leadership, or identify as leadership. But in a lot of ways, it's actually more important.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Music: Darkness

Music by Theodor Bastard. Animation by Icepick Lodge.

I'm going to have to find more of their music. It's all over the place, but a lot of it seems to kind of... land in my sweet spot.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ash Knight, Scene 3

Edrin had taken a room in one of the tenements in the Sink, where the Watch never patrolled and he would be hidden from the attention of the High Church. Only the poorest and most desperate lived here; only the Gardeners and a handful of actual priests ministered to them.

The Sink had grown up in the lowlands west of the docks and the warehouse district. Only the main streets were cobbled, and even those were in poor repair. The smaller streets and alleys were dirt, or more frequently mud, and in the spring the whole district would flood with runoff from the river. The pervasive scent of mildew was occasionally buried by the smell of smoke, rotting garbage, or human waste; the area was home to more rats, snakes, and feral cats than people.

Edrin slipped in through the narrow doorway, and made his way down the dirty hallway to the tiny wooden stairwell. When he'd first taken a room here, the custodian -- a big, burly man whose sharp eyes belied his rough looks, ragged clothing, and broken teeth -- had looked him over carefully and then said: "This is a lawful building, you understand? You fight, you steal, you cause trouble, you do that somewhere else. You don't bring the Watch here, you don't bother the other tenants, and you pay on time." Edrin had nodded and agreed; he had no intention of causing trouble here. These people had enough of their own.

So when he came around the corner and found the two men in front of the custodian's door, one of them kneeling as he wiggled a lifter between the frame and the edge of the door, the other standing over the mostly-hooded lantern and watching him work, Edrin's flare of outrage was immediate and overwhelming. He wasn't carrying a light; by reflex, he'd used the small blessing that allowed him to see in the dark, so the two men didn't see him immediately. So he kept walking, whispering another quick blessing to keep his steps silent on the creaky wooden floor. A third blessing, exhaled just at the threshold of audibility, snuffed out their lamp.

There was no other light in the hallway. The two would-be thieves never knew what hit them. By the time the custodian lifted the bar and opened the door, a length of axe handle clutched in one hand, Edrin was gone.