Friday, October 20, 2017

Ideal Life

I'm trying to visualize the kind of life I'd like to be living - or at least retire into - and here's what I'm currently coming up with (in a real-world setting, so now Vast Supernatural Powers for this one):

I want to live in a castle, or at least a big stone house with a tower; the place should be reasonably isolated, with a lot of empty (and interesting!) landscape around it; however, it should also have electricity, indoor plumbing, reliable internet, and a truly excellent school system. With that as a sort of safe haven, I would also like to be able to visit a reasonably cosmopolitan area with lots of interesting restaurants and things to do.

Now, to make that possible, I need to either:
1. Win the lottery.
2. Inherit an unexpected windfall (possibly from a Nigerian prince).
3. Start robbing banks.

(Actually, some modest version of that might actually be possible eventually, even on our current income, but since I'm fantasizing I'd like to have it happen, y'know, now.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

It... might be quiet

Beautiful Wife is out of town for the remainder of the week. Fortunately, her parents are picking the boys up from school. That still leaves me handling the bedtime routine, though - right after, right after we got an email from one of Secondborn's teachers that he hasn't been doing his homework, and right after Firstborn's Orchestra teacher informed us that he'd be keeping a practice log that we needed to sign off on. So I added those to the evening schedule.

Last night went perfectly. We caught up most of Secondborn's homework; Firstborn did his music practice. Everybody ate. I ran laundry. I managed to shut off the TV and get them into bed with a minimum of arguing and without anybody going into a meltdown. But, well... that was only the first night.

Tomorrow night? When we have to do this all over again? Yeah, that's when the screaming is likely to start.

And you know, despite how unbelievably well the boys handled themselves, by eight o'clock last night I was tired down to my bones. Just exhausted. Enervated, even. Which... {shakes fist at sky} ...isn't how it's supposed to work.

I'd psyched myself up to not try to do anything except keep things running and get the boys down. Everything else could wait. But I would have loved to have squeezed in an extra half an hour of writing before I went to bed myself, even if it was only character sketches or making little vignettes of the world and some of its settings. Instead, I watched a few horror movie previews on Youtube (apparently that's something I do to relax) and then went to bed.

I think I'm going to promise myself that if I can just get through tonight, I get to play half an hour of one of my comfort games (like comfort reading, but a video game). Meanwhile... well, it's going to be a slow day and we're just going to have to muddle through.

Music: Smoke Signals

Phoebe Bridgers:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dear Diary: Still Missing

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 17

Dear Diary,

I saw Mrs. Puffblossom last night. She was spying on the house again, just like usual. Except... well, Diary, the thing is... Mrs. Puffblossom has been missing since the ghost possessed her. So it's not really Mrs. Puffblossom watching the house. It's the ghost.

I'm worried, Diary. I mean, bad enough that I called up a ghost strong enough to possess zombies and other people, but... now it's watching me. It wants something, and I don't know what.

I need to get the ghost out of Mrs. Puffblossom and dismiss it properly. It's not just for my own safety... but, I mean, it's not because I much care what happens to Mrs. Puffblossom, either. She's a nasty, gossiping old biddy and it's her own fault for trying to spy on us. But... if I'm going to be a necromancer, a real necromancer, this has to be how things work: the undead do as I command. I can't call them up and then have them running loose, or thinking that they're in charge.

So I'm going to do this. I'm going to figure out a way to track down this ghost, and I'm going to send it back beyond the Veil. Either that, or I'm going to bind it to a tree.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cool Wind In My Hair

So we pulled into this weird hotel - hey, it'd been a long day, we were on a dark desert highway, and we had to stop for the night. If it hadn't been for those voices down the corridor, we probably would have stayed. Instead, we pulled over at a rest stop half a mile further on and slept in the can. I think that was the better choice, but I can't help wondering...

You want to write good fiction? Or tell good stories? Listen to songs. Find the ones that tell stories. Look at the way they pack their stories into just a few important words, how they rarify the essence of the tale and set it to music. It's not the only way, not the only thing, but if you're prone to Writing All The Words and Explaining Everything the way I am, it's surprisingly helpful.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Asking for what, exactly?

Tucker McCrady:
"I get pretty angry when someone suggests that women are 'asking for it' if they dress a certain way. And up until today, my outrage was mostly directed at the notion of “asking,” the notion that dressing a certain way is a request of any sort. People should feel free to dress however they want! But of course, our choice of dress does communicate things, and we all know that; we all have reasons for dressing one way on one day, and another on the next. Pretending otherwise isn’t quite exactly to the point.

"What is to the point, what really is outrageous, is the notion of 'it.' When people say women are 'asking for it' by dressing provocatively (whatever that means), the 'it' they are referring to is sexual harassment. Which, if you think about it, is saying that if you dress in a way so as to stimulate or invite sexual interest (which you are perfectly entitled to do), you are simultaneously asking to be sexually though men just can’t be expected to worry their pretty little heads about the difference between sexual interest and sexual harassment.

"Which of course is the whole problem; men all too often don’t know or care what sexual harassment is, or at least not enough to not do it.

"If I ask for a pat on the back and turn so you can give me one, I suppose I am taking the risk that you might instead strike me so hard as to injure or even cripple me. But taking that risk is my business; if you do decide to crack my spine, it is beyond absurd to say that I asked for it. There is only one person to blame for an assault, a harassment, or even a professionally inappropriate expression of sexual interest that might be appropriate in another context. It’s the person who chooses to do it, not the person trying desperately to juggle risks in a screwed-up, misogynist world.

"So the next time someone refers to someone as 'asking for it,' ask them to clarify what 'it' means. My guess is they’ve probably never even thought about it."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Superhero Bar Stories: Most Surprising Power

Made it rain frogs? The guy actually made it rain frogs? Okay, right, that's surprising. And honestly, I don't know if I can beat it. But the most surprising power I've ever run into personally, well...

Picture the scene: Midtown Bank, down on Fifth and Ocean - you know it? Good. Okay, so, this is about two years back. Made the news and everything; you can look it up in the morning.

It was a bank robbery, is what it was. About eight guys, most with pistols or shotguns, plus one idiot with a grenade launcher. Yes, to rob a bank. Classic M79 - no idea where he got it. Anyway, they stroll in wearing their ski masks, wave their guns around and start yelling for everybody to get down on the floor. Which is basically what happens, except that one of the tellers manages to kick the silent alarm. So by the time they've got the money and are starting for the door, the first police units are pulling up outside.

So the robbers change plans. They close the doors and decide that everybody who was in there is now a hostage. A couple of them go around to cover the sides and the back, make sure nobody's getting out or coming in. If I'd gotten there just two minutes earlier I could have walked right in unnoticed, but by the time I arrived the place was closed up tight. And it's a bank, so it's not like anybody's going to leave a window open on the second floor or anything.

Well, the police settle in for a hostage drama, and I settle in with them. Captain Amazing shows up too, but he doesn't want to bust through the wall or even the windows. Too much chance of hostages getting killed. So we wait, while the negotiators do their thing.

And we wait.

And we wait.

And finally the bank robbers start getting impatient, and grab one of the tellers, march her right up to the front door, and threaten to shoot her if the police won't meet their demands.

That's when he moved.

You know The Viper? Yeah, well... apparently he banks at Midtown, when he's not on the streets. He'd come in just before close of business, just before all this went down, and he'd been waiting with the rest of the hostages. But I'm looking in the windows from a nearby rooftop, and while everybody's attention is on the robber and the hostage at the door, I see this one guy at the back just kind of... shift... into the biggest freaking snake I have ever seen in my life. And he slips around the robber next to him and starts squeezing. And he's fast enough to do it before the guy can say anything, and after that it's too late: the guys being squeezed too tight to breathe, much less yell.

Maybe half a minute later he slides away. I can sort of see the other hostages reacting, but... well... giant freakin' anaconda. Most of them just freeze, or maybe scoot quietly away. Maybe some of them were wimpering, but it wasn't loud enough to give him away. So he comes up behind the next robber, and it's the same thing again: a lightning-fast strike, and then he's coiled around the guy. And that's it for that guy.

He's almost to the next one when the guy happens to look around. Maybe he heard something; I don't know. But he looks back, and the snake rears up and strikes. I don't think it even bit him, just slammed its head into him and punched him straight back into the wall.

At this point, there's only two of them left in the main room. The other three are watching the back and sides. Well, these two open fire, and...

Nothing. The giant snake is either bulletproof, or close enough to it. And it's fast. It flows across the floor like a river of evil scales, slaps one guy down with its tail, and coils around the other guy. The hostage? The teller they were threatening to kill? She finally starts screaming. Fortunately, she starts screaming and runs out the door. Which means the rest of us can get in. Which means the robbery is effectively over, because the remaining three perps are all in different areas, and all well away from the hostages.

I talked to the guy afterwards, once he was a guy again. Nice kid, just... sometimes he's a giant, super-powered snake. And that was the most surprising superpower I ever ran into.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Cold War-est Book Ever To War Coldly

So, my dad is sorting out old books (many of them from my childhood), which mainly means putting them in boxes and letting us go through them. Some of them are classics; some of them are odd. I mean, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is a respectable title for any childhood library. I discovered (and found that I had fond memories of) Danny Dunn on a Desert Island, and passed it along to Firstborn, who also enjoyed it. On the other hand, some of them are just... kind of creepy. I'm still baffled by The Lemming Condition, for example. And only marginally less creepy is today's selection:

The Rescue
A Novel by Elizabeth Faucher
Based on the Motion Picture Written by Jim Thomas & John Thomas

"Now A Major Motion Picture from Touchstone Pictures," the cover proclaims proudly, disdaining any sensible rules for capitalization. (I have no memory of such a Motion Picture ever existing, but I'm sure it did.) But the real wonder of this thing is the summary on the back. The book was apparently published in 1988, which puts it firmly in the same era as Iron Eagle, and... well... just read it:
Their fathers are locked up in a prison camp behind the Bamboo Curtain. Their government has decided that it's too risky to attempt a rescue mission - it could lead to war. So now it's up to the SEAL kids - J.J., Shawn, Adrian, Max, and Bobby - to rescue their fathers and bring them back to freedom and safety.
That's right, kids: it's your responsibility to Save America by doing Something Insanely Stupid That Might Actually Cause A War Heroic. Yeah.

You go right ahead with that.

Man, I grew up in a weird era.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dear Diary: Camping

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 9

Deary Diary,

Well, I'm back. Dad decided that the whole family needed to go camping. Didn't even give us time to pack, just threw a few things in the cart and drove us out of town. And for NO REASON. The zombies were almost done cleaning up the house by the time Mom got home, and he didn't even stay around long enough to hear about Mrs. Fluffblossom next door.

Okay, so... I tried to summon a ghost back on Friday, and she trashed the house. Stupid ghost. So I called up a few zombies to help me clean up, which would have been fine except apparently the ghost wasn't gone yet. So the ghost kind of possessed one of my zombies and took off with it. In it. Whatever. And, of course, it staggered right past Mrs. Fluffblossom, who was probably trying to get close enough to see what all the noise had been without actually looking like she was spying on us. (She totally was, though.) So Mrs. Puffblossom starts screaming, and then the ghost steps out of the zombie and into her. So now the zombie is just standing out there on the sidewalk, and Possessed Mrs. Puffblossom goes racing off into town.

...And then Mom gets home and finds zombies cleaning her house. "Her" house, like none of the rest of us live there, right? But everything's pretty well put together, so mainly Mom's just yelling at me to get the zombies out of there, and then Gladwin walks in. She just looks around, says, "Huh," and then goes to her room and closes the door. Mom finally sits down at the kitchen table, and the zombies are finishing the last bits of cleanup, and that's when Dad walks in, looks around, and says: "Everybody in the cart. We're going camping."

Which... I can't even. Two days, Diary. Two days, in the woods, with my family. My face is sunburned, the back of my neck is one giant bug bite composed of many smaller bug bites, my ankles are itchy, my feet are sore, and my best black-and-red robe is torn up and stained with dirt and grass. They didn't even let me bring Fluffy, the one person in the family who might have actually enjoyed it. It's a good thing she doesn't need to eat, 'cause they just left her in the back yard. No crystal ball to watch my shows on, no mystic tomes to read. "Family time," Dad kept saying with a kind of manic gleam in his eye. "It'll be good for us. Get in the cart." So we're out there in the forest with nothing more than the clothes on our back, a deck of cards that's missing the Queen of Flames and the Jack of Shadows, and Mom keeps trying to get us to sing.

Necromancers don't sing, Diary.

Necromancers. Do. Not. Sing.

Not even if you tell them that they don't get to have cider with the rest of the family unless they sing. Not even then.

Then dad spends the rest of the time trying to get me to go out hunting with him. "Learn how to survive in the wild, son. There are roots and berries all through these woods, and if we can catch a couple of squirrels we'll have stew!" Yeah, no. I know Dad was a big deal in the outriders in his youth, and I know he wishes I could be more like him, but I'm not. And I've got more important things on my mind. I'd honestly prefer to just sit around the campsite and watch Gladwin play unwinnable games of solitaire.

Anyway, he finally did pack everything back up and take us back home, but... well, my weekend's gone, Diary.

The only upside was that I forgot to excant the zombies, so the house was really clean when we got back.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dear Diary: Poltergeist

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Leaffall, Day 5

Dear Diary,

Well, I'm in trouble again. And this time, I have to admit that it's actually kind of my fault.

I'm still trying to figure out how to summon ghosts. Well, actually... summoning them isn't the hard part. Keeping them around is harder, and binding them to my service is much harder. So the one I summoned last night, pretty much at random? Well, she hung around. Mainly, she hung around smashing stuff.

She trashed the house. Yeah. The whole house. While I was skipping school. And I really need to get it cleaned up before my parents get home. That gives me a few hours, but... I'd better get started. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Potion To See The Fey

Honey and spices; three tears from a writer or singer (one will do, but three is better); equal portions of dawn and dusk; a splash of whiskey poured across a golden spoon; and your favorite childhood memory. Stir it only with your breath, and drink it only by moonlight.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Nobody Wants It

Me: {Reading an email} "Seriously?"

My Boss: "What is it?"

Me: "This other department has sent over a list of items that they're getting rid of, in case anybody wants to claim them before they go to auction."

My Boss: "And?"

Me: {reading from the email} "As a note, none of the electrical items have power cables and the wireless mic/receivers are in an illegal bandwidth for US use."

Boss: "Seriously?"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tweet-length Halloween Poem!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Dad Joke

Did you hear about the Yeti who went into business as a personal trainer?

Turns out he was surprisingly good at it. Did a lot of work with core strength and core endurance, helped a lot of people get fit and strong.

The called him the abdominable snowman.

ACA Enrollment Reminder

Enrollment for 2018 Affordable Care Act (ACA / Obamacare) starts November 1 and ends December 15. 45 reduced the ADVERTISING funds by 90% to announce when people can enroll.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dear Diary: Cutting Class

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Fading, Day 21

Dear Diary,

Mopeybeard's father brought him up to town today, so I skipped school to go hang out with them. Mopeybeard's dad didn't look too pleased about that. I think maybe he brought Mopeybeard during the week because he knew I'd be in school then. But he didn't say anything, he just glowered at me. So I hung around, and Mopeybeard made friends with Fluffy, and we actually had kind of a good time. I mean, we got to wander around the big market, and watch Mopeybeard's dad bargain with clothiers and rug-merchants and an alchemist. Apparently he sells the products of his forge up here, then buys stuff like that and takes it back down to resell in the Underhalls. I'll bet it works really well, too.

Anyway, after a while he let us wander off. Mopeybeard set up on a corner, singing and playing his lute, and actually got a bit of a crowd. (Even if they did keep saying things like, "Do you know anything more cheerful?") He sings really well, for a dwarf who's still too young to drink. And even if most of my people didn't properly appreciate him singing about how depressing it is to live in the dark all with a bunch of dwarves who spend all their time working, I really enjoyed it.

Then Mopeybeard's father came back and collected him again, so I went home. Mopeybeard would love to have me come visit, but I can't see in the dark (yet) and anyway there's no way my parents are going to approve a visit to the Underhalls. So I'm stuck here in Sunvalley, at least until I graduate. Or grow powerful enough to travel the roads of the dead. There's a thought. Anyway, it's going to be a while, however it finally works out.

When I got home, my dad gave me a long look, and then just said: "You owe Miss Gentlerain a page describing what you learned at the market today." Which tells me two things: first, that the illusion I tried to set so everyone would think I'd been at school all day didn't work. And second, that apparently the school just decided to go with it. I gotta say, that does make everybody's life easier. Which, since we're all treading ineluctably towards our inevitable deaths, seems like a pretty sensible idea.

Good night, diary. Tomorrow we'll try to summon a ghost again.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Real Work Conversations: IT

Co-worker: "So I've got this coupon for Alamo Drafthouse, and I was looking for something to go see. I was thinking about IT, but... then I was thinking, 'Do I really want to be eating while I'm watching IT?'"

Me: "You'll have to order root beer floats."

Co-worker: {Stops}
Co-worker: {Looks at me}

Monday, September 18, 2017

A retired supervillain walks into a bank...

An attempted bank robbery on Ceti Prime went awry this afternoon when the would-be robbers encountered the retired supervillain formerly known as Technocrat. Security sensors recorded the following dialogue...
"Ah, yes. That's a good-looking weapon, young man. Very threatening. Death ray, is it? Oh, a heat ray. Yes, that *is* impressive. Your own design? Excellent. I have high hopes for you, young man. High hopes. There's just one tiny little problem with it, but overall it's really a very good design. One doesn't usually see such devotion to craftsmanship these day. Problem? Did I say it had a problem? Oh, well, I suppose I did. When one gets to my age, one *does* tend to natter on. Oh, the problem! Quite right, quite right. Well, you see, it's a lovely little heat ray, and I'm quite sure it's capable of cutting me in half or slicing straight into the vault, but... well... I'm sorry to say that the quantum subconductor is empty. What? The battery, young man. Your weapon has a dead battery. And so, as a matter of fact, do all your friends' weapons. Shocking coincidence, I'm sure, no idea what could have caused it. Still, under the circumstances, I *do* think you should maybe run away now, before the Authority arrives, and let the rest of us be on about our business. Terribly good to have met you..."
Despite a planet-wide manhunt, neither the supervillain nor the would-be robbers have yet been found.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Dear Diary: Harder Than It Looks

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Fading, Day 17

Just a quick note, Diary: summoning ghosts? Waaaay harder than it looks. I mean, I managed to imbue my last zombie with a spark of actual creative intelligence; I didn't think a ghost would be much harder than that.

Turns out that ghosts are hard to conjure, and a lot harder to conjure in a way where they'll actually be able to hang around for more than a couple of moments.

Oh, well. All part of the research. I'll get it done sooner or later, hopefully before Midterms.

Friday, September 15, 2017

More Music: inFamous Second Son Rap

Secondborn found this one last night, and for a while there I wasn't sure I'd be able to get him off my computer again. It's a rap by JT Machinima, based on inFamous Second Son.(It'll make more sense if you're familiar with the video game.)

Music: Raining Stars

How about a bit of metal to finish out the week? The band is Lord of the Lost (featuring Formalin), and the song is called Raining Stars.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dear Diary: Pets Are Therapeutic

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Fading, Day 14

Dear diary,

So Mom thinks I ought to get a puppy, "like a normal boy". Yeah, she actually said that.

But it turned out to be a good idea.

I mean, yeah, Fluffy is another zombie and now my mom won't let her into the house. (Have I mentioned that adults make no sense? Adults make no sense.) But she's cute, she's obedient, and she's completely loyal to me. I need to get my own place so she can sleep on the bed with me at night.

Gladwin (That's my sister. Not sure if I mentioned her name before.) thinks it's weird that I'd rather have a dead dog than a live one, but once I pointed out that Fluffy doesn't pee on everything and won't dig up the yard unless I tell her to, she was a lot more reasonable about it. And my dad just shook his head and looked sad.

No, Mom's the real problem, even though this whole thing was her idea. I wish she could just be proud of me, for once.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Music: No Matter What Goes Right

Today, in the category of "Songs That Make Me Think Of my Beautiful Wife", I offer this one from Trout Fishing In America:

Ye gods, I can't believe we all got through yesterday. That was a very long day.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hero's Journey, Virgin's Promise, and story structures

Okay, confession time:
I've always been kind of dubious about just how "Universal" the Hero's Journey really is. It's usually introduced (to me, anyway) as "Joseph Campbell claimed that all the great stories follow this pattern," but it seems to me that it's actually more "all the stories that Joseph Campbell really enjoyed follow this pattern." And it seems to me that it's a pattern that's very much grounded in what we might call Western Civilization, and to some extent in Western concepts of masculinity.

More importantly, though, it seems to me that The Hero's Journey is mainly just a template for a certain kind of Coming Of Age story. It doesn't, for example, work anywhere near as well if your "hero" is a forty-year-old man. (That's not to say that it can't be done, just that doing so requires a fundamental subversion of the original template.) For Luke Skywalker, it works fine. For a superhero origin story, it works fine. But for a character who's already established as capable and empowered, it really doesn't fit; it's not, for example, a pattern that fits well for Conan the Barbarian, or any of the Die Hard movies. And it doesn't even always work for superheroes; I re-watched The Incredibles recently, and Mr. Incredible is *so* very clearly following a Heroine's Journey/Virgin's Promise story arc. (Talk about your Price of Conformity. Sheesh.)

But the Virgin's Promise/Prince's Journey/Heroine's Journey template seems in some ways even more universal than the Hero's Journey ever was. If the Hero's Journey is fundamentally a pattern for a Coming Of Age story, the Heroine's Journey seems to work for almost any story where the protagonist is struggling against all the forces (in ourselves and/or others) that want to preserve the Status Quo and resist change.

...Which is a struggle that you can have at any age, and in a great many different environments. That doesn't mean it's universal. It's probably not going to work for a story where, say, the primary structure is built around learning enough about the monster that's eating people to either kill it, or at least successfully escape. And while it could be a single character's arc in some sort of team setup (I'm thinking of Leverage, or X-men as examples) the overall show is going to have a different setup and different story beats.

So I'm increasingly suspicious that "universal" story structures are actually just common patterns for particular kinds of stories, and that there are probably a lot more of these patterns than the two I've looked at so far, *and* that some stories may start with one template and then slide (with varying degrees of success) into another.

Friday, September 8, 2017

No, that kids book isn't creepy at all

So, I was at my father's house and he was unloading a bunch of books from back in my childhood. In the course of sorting through to see which, if any, the boys might like, I found this:

The Lemming Condition
by Alan Arkin
I have no memory of every reading this book. I mean, I might have read it, but if so I either long since forgot about it, or I blocked it out of my mind completely. So when I found it, I promptly flipped it over to read the back, and... well...
I... I just... I don't even... I mean, the thing about lemmings running off the cliff is a myth, but if I ignore that... who thought this book would be a good idea? I can't imagine.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dear Diary: Cooking Class

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Highsun, Day 28

Dear diary,

Well, that was a disaster. They didn't even let me finish the rest of my school day. In-school suspension... and then, a full suspension when

I guess I should start at the beginning, Diary. That's usually how these things are done. So...

I made myself an undead servitor to help me pass Cooking class. It was an incredible success, not that you'd know it from the way everyone reacted. I found the grave of Elvar Glorion, the greatest Halfling chef ever to live in Warmspring, and called him back. I got the full body. I mean, he was still dead, of course, but he wasn't even decayed -- just a little emaciated. And more importantly, I conjured back that critical spark of his spirit, that allowed his reanimated corpse to cook!

Nobody even seemed to notice, at first. Laurel Twinblossom asked me if I'd brought my uncle to school, but that was about it. But then, while he was cooking, Disbell Windhorn got close enough to really look at his face and started yelling about how I had a dead guy in the classroom. Okay, yeah, he wasn't wrong, but did he really need to freak out like that? And then Mrs. Dawnpetal fainted, and somebody ran off to tell the principal, and... it didn't get any better from there.

At first, Principal Brightstream was threatening me with legal action for having a corpse around food preparation. I pointed out that the corpse was properly raised and therefore completely preserved against decay -- no self-respecting necromancer is going to create zombies that actually rot -- but he just kept repeating "A corpse. Around food." Then I pointed out that the corpse was also a famous chef, but apparently that doesn't make any difference. Then I wondered out loud what it would do to the reputation of the school if people learned that we had corpses roaming the halls and preparing second breakfasts, and finally Principal Brightstream decided that maybe we'd better not mention this to anyone. Which, y'know what? Fine. Whatever.

Unfortunately, Secretary Brightbottom had already whispered my dad. So halfway through my day of in-school suspension, he shows up demanding to know what's going on and what I've done this time. And since I refuse to return Chef Glorion to the earth, the principal decides that maybe I need more time with my dad, and changes my in-school suspension to three days of regular suspension! Which makes no sense. I mean, if I'd released him there they'd just have had to clean up a corpse in the detention hall, plus I'd still be failing Cooking class. Adults make no sense, diary. I'm just going to go back and underline that.


It's fine. I'm fine. I'll just have to try something else. Not with Chef Glorion; he's done his best for me.

No, next time I'm just going to get a ghost instead.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Some Poems Rhyme

So... Secondborn came and pulled me away from the computer and all the way into Firstborn's room, so he could repeat a poem to me. It went like this:
Poppies are red
Bluebonnets are blue
Some poems rhyme
But this one sucks
He didn't make it up himself, of course. Apparently he got it from a Minecraft/Walking Dead crossover that he was watching through my Amazon account. Still funny, though.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Two Kinds of... wait, what?

Etiquette for Elevators

1. Anyone getting off the elevator has the right of way. Let them out, then get on.

2. Shift around. Mutter to yourself about things like "you know they're made of meat" or "listening, always listening" or "the voices never stop" or "salt in the wounds adds flavor".

3. If you have luggage, keep it tucked out of the way behind you, preferably in a corner.

4. If the trip is more than three floors, punch an extra button; then look expectantly out the door when you reach that floor. Say things like, "Oh, don't mind him. He's just an old softie. Just scoot over a little bit to leave room for his tail."

5. If there are children on the elevator, look at them suspiciously, then put a finger to your lips.

6. Brood.

7. Be sure to inform your fellow passengers that these elevators always have cameras.

8. Do not make eye contact; that would be rude.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Game of Golf.

I can't be the only person who thinks that not only is Golf kind of its own special language, but that it's almost entirely made up, right? Right?

Oh, you want an example? All right. "The green on this hole is very receptive." What does that even mean? Am I trying to proposition it at a cocktail party or something? Why would you even say that about what I assume is a well-groomed stretch of grass?

"Usually this is a mid-iron shot with a bunker on the left and a bunker behind the green..." Should I be worried about machine gun fire? Do I need to elbow-crawl towards my next shot? What is going on here???

"This week's game will be a 4-Person Team Championship Stroke Play." WHY DOES ALL THIS SOUND LIKE SOME KIND OF THINLY VEILED EUPHEMISM? WHY???

Oh, right. Probably because it was invented by the Scots.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, here's how you play golf.

Step One: There's a little white ball. Set it on the ground, then hit it with the metal stick. The ball will going flying off into some wildly unlikely location, including such possibilities as Off In The Trees Where You Will Never Find It, In The Deep Grass With The Snakes, or At The Bottom Of A Pool Of Mucky Water That Some Idiot Left Lying Around.

Step Two: Drink beer.

Step Three: Walk to the edge of the area where your ball disappeared. Set a new ball on the ground and pretend that it is absolutely, without question, exactly the same ball that disappeared a few moments ago. If your companions question this, offer them more beer. Hit the new ball with the metal stick, and watch your new ball disappear to some new but equally idiotic location which might as well be the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

Step Four: Drink more beer.

Step Five: Repeat Steps Three and Four until one of your balls miraculously lands near the hole. Tap the ball into the hole. Be gentle. Be graceful. Above all, do not let anyone know how drunk you are already.

Step Six: Drink more beer.

Step Seven: Move to the next hole, and repeat this process.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dear Diary: School Is No Place For A Necromancer

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Highsun, Day 21

Dear diary,

My father's mad at me again. It's school, of course. My report scroll came home.

Okay, so I'm behind in Advanced Treasure Counting and I'm failing Cooking. Oh, and Coach is threatening to hold me back if I don't at least start hitting the targets when we practice throwing. I mean, yeah. I guess I can see why he'd be mad. But it's not like asked to go to school.

"You're the smartest kind in your class! You could do this easily if you'd just apply yourself!" Well, yeah, but that's sort of my point. Cooking and Treasure Counting? My intellect and my time could be spent on far more important things. There are ancient books out there, just full of forbidden knowledge and waiting for me unlock their secrets. Instead, I'm staring at a pan full of scrambled eggs and wondering if I could reanimate them into some sort of oregano-flavored undead slime-monster.

But when I try to explain about how nothing we're learning in school is truly important, Dad just gets this look on his face like... like he really wants to start screaming at me but doesn't think it'll do any good. He won't listen.

I give up.

I guess I could start hitting things for Coach. I mean, I hate him. All he does is shout a lot and lecture us on how important sports are and how they Prepare You For Life. (Can you imagine, diary? I'm trying to explore the fathomless secrets of Death itself, he thinks sports will prepare me for life?) But I could do it. And the treasure stuff is pretty easy, when I pay attention. Some of the stuff with the interest and the economics is even kind of interesting.

But there's no way I'm ever going to be a decent cook. Maybe I could create some kind of undead servitor to do my cooking projects for me? There's an idea.

Later, dear diary. I have to go do research.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I hate this time of year.

We're into our second week of school for the Beautiful Wife and both boys, and naturally we're sick. (Firstborn appears to be the lone exception.) Fortunately, we're not badly sick -- I took Monday afternoon off, but made it all the way through Tuesday, if only barely -- but this is a lot more sick than I'd like to be. Especially since I'd like to be, well, Not Sick At All.

But, no: headache, low energy, irritability, occasional chills, inability to concentrate... blech. At least I'm not sick to my stomach anymore; that was what did me in on Monday. But I can feel the swollen lymph nodes in my throat, and they are not happy.

The worst part, though, is that the Beautiful Wife and I are both just demoralized. And I'm pretty sure it's less of a rational assessment, or even a reaction to being sick, than it is a direct result of being sick itself. But it's just... Ugh. I feel useless. And wasted. And stuck. It's like we've come down with an emotional head cold as well as a physical one. I feel like... I feel like I'm never going to do the things I really want to do.

And then I think about the boys sleeping in the next room, and I know that can't be right. I'm already doing the things I really want to do. This is the life I want. And yeah, there are some things which aren't developing the way I'd like, or anywhere near as fast as I'd like, but I'm pretty sure that shouldn't fill me with this weird existential combination of dread and despair.

The boys are actually doing okay. Secondborn was sick to his stomach back on Sunday (just as I was on Monday), but he managed to go to school and seems to be doing fine; Firstborn continues to watch YouTube videos while walking on the treadmill at every opportunity. He laughs in the face of illness. He, too, seems to be handling his first week of school (and his first year of Middle School - he's in sixth grade now) pretty well.

So, again: rational analysis suggests that things are actually going well, if not perfectly. But... well... just try telling that to my feelings...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Scam I Can Get Behind

It occurs to me that if I'm ever going to go into - ahem - "business" as a scammer, I really need to come up with a scam I can deliver convincingly... or at least enthusiastic. And I think the "Spellcasting Miracle Worker" scam might be just the thing. I mean, I probably wouldn't be that convincing, but... well, look at this thing that showed up in my comments:
My names is Cathy i want to testify about the great spell caster called Scammer Amuck my husband and i have been married or 5 years now we don't have a child and the doctor told us i can't give birth because my womb have been damaged due to wrong drugs prescription this got me so worried and my husband was not happy so he decided to get married to another girl and divorce me i was so sad i told my friend about it she told me about a powerful spell caster she gave me his email address well i never believe in it that much though i just decided to give him a try and he told me it will take 24hrs to get my husband back to me and i will get pregnant i doubted him the 3rd day my husband came back to me and was crying he said he didn't want the divorce anymore 3 weeks after the doctor confirmed that i was pregnant he can also help you Email him at or
I mean, convincing is probably pushing things a bit, but I could deliver a pitch like that with maniacal, hyperbolic enthusiasm. That'd be close enough, right? And as a special bonus, I'd throw in some punctuation.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Witchcraft in Pre-History

Ladies and Gentlemen, it turns out that Witchcraft has a much longer history than anyone previously realized. We now have photographic evidence that our earliest mammalian ancestors learned to worship the Goddess from actual dinosaurs! Behold:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Ballad of Grimbad Willowisp, Halfling Necromancer

Year 331, Twelfth Age
Highsun, Day 14

Dear diary,

It's been three months since I took the name Grimbad Willowisp and swore myself to the study of darkness and death, and my parents are still in denial about it. My mother keeps telling the neighbors that I'm studying to be a wizard, which I guess is sort of true. But she can't even bring herself to say the word "necromancer", even though I've done everything I can to make it obvious: black robes with red trim, black eyeliner, grim expressions... Seriously, she can't think she's fooling anybody, can she?

And my father's even worse. He's started making a point of calling me by my full birth-name, Grinbroad Willowsend. I tried telling him that my name is Grimbad Willowisp now, but he just shook his head and said, "No it isn't." Can you believe it, diary? Neither could I. I became Grimbad Willowisp when I became a necromancer, but just try telling my dad that.

My sister is just as bad, but at least she keeps the other kids off me. After Merrybloom Rosewine made fun of my clothing and then mysteriously lost her homework on the way to school for three days straight, everybody leaves me alone. That's fine with me. And it's not like I don't have friends. I mean, yeah, Mopeybeard is a dwarf, but he's really good with his lute and his songs about how his father doesn't understand him and he just doesn't fit in in the Deep Halls make me feel like maybe I'm not the only one, you know?

They just don't get it. We spend our lives speeding towards death. How can you ignore that? How can you not want to know everything there is to know about it? But they don't. They're too busy worrying about what's for lunch. They'll never understand me.

It's just you and me, diary. And Mopeybeard, when his father brings him up to town.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Memento Mori

So, a little over a year after my mom died, my dad is cleaning out her stuff. (He's looking at renting out one side of the house, partly for income but mainly so that someone who doesn't have the same eyesight trouble can help him sort through mail and pay bills.) This is, I think, a good and healthy thing.

It is, however, turning up some odd mementos. I'll probably talk about some of the others later, as many of them relate to my childhood. For today, I'll simply remind you that I don't talk to anti-vaxxers for the simple reason that I go straight to blinding rage in about seven seconds flat. The reason for the rage? Here:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Boys & DnD, Session 6

I was going to say that this was another short session, but actually these under-an-hour-and-a-half games seem to be about ideal for us as a family.

If you're coming in late, we have:
Firstborn, playing an Elf Druid/Barbarian (2/2) and his animal companion, a viper.
Secondborn, who is playing a Human Ranger/Rogue (2/2) with a focus on archery.
Beautiful Wife, who is playing a Halfling Sorceress (4) and her familiar owl.

They have been sent to investigate a mysterious dungeon, which was discovered when a section of ground caved in near one of the outlying farms around their woodland town. As Patrollers (i.e. guards who protect the homes outside the city walls) their assignment was to find out what was scaring the family of half-elves nearest the dungeon entrance; it turned out to be a group of goblins which had snuck out and raided the chicken coop. After killing off the goblins on the top level, they found a circular ramp leading down to another, deeper level which was dimly lit by some sort of phosphorescent lichen growning in the cracks between the stone blocks of the walls, floor, and ceiling. They discovered something that had probably once been a temple but which was now infested with giant spiders, fought off a band of goblins led by an ill-fated hobgoblin, and went back to town to report.

Upon their return, they discovered a skeletal owlbear guarding the bottom of the ramp, and defeated it reasonably handily. Further explorations led them to a large room in which the goblins had evidently grown a village out of giant mushrooms. The group decided to bypass the village, and went down another passage instead.

Today, we picked up at the far end of the passage, where a battle - or at least a skirmish - was already in progress. A trio of goblins were facing off against three skeletons and a ghoul. Firstborn and Beautiful Wife decided to hang back and watch, but Secondborn snuck forward along the wall.

The goblin the center of the room turned out to be a spellcaster, and blasted the ghoul with a Magic Missile. That left the two goblin fighters squaring off against the (human-sized) skeletons; they exchanged blows, with the goblins taking some damage but destroying two of the skeletons. Secondborn chose that moment to step in and attack the remaining skeleton, and destroyed it.

That left our three heroes staring awkwardly at the three badly-startled goblins.

Two of the goblins moved to position themselves where they could watch the far hallway (the one the undead had evidently emerged from) and the hallway the characters had come down at the same time. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn stepped back to one side of the hallway, and the third goblin (seeing his way clear) ran past them and back in the direction of the goblin village.

"Well," observed Firstborn. "This is awkward."

The goblin wizard said, in bad-goblin-voice but in the Common tongue, "What you do here?"

"Exploring," said Firstborn, and Beautiful Wife immediately agreed: "Exploring."

"Exploring?" asked the goblin wizard dubiously.

"Yes. Exploring."

"You killed mushroom farmers."

Beautiful Wife answers this one: "They stole our chickens."

The goblin wizard kind of grunts at that, but he doesn't seem offended.

At this point, the goblin fighter returns with reinforcements: three other goblins and a hobgoblin. Beautiful Wife and Firstbon step into the room, staying out of their way, and the whole crowd stops just inside the doorway. They seem puzzled that nobody's fighting. The hobgoblin says something, and the goblin wizard translates: "Chief Grok wants to know what you do here."

Firstborn repeats his line about exploring, the goblins have a quick exchange, and then the goblin wizard says, "Chief Grok says you trespassing."

Firstborn replies, "...It's a valid point."

After a little more consideration, he offers: "Maybe we could make a deal? We stay on the surface, and you stay down here?"

The goblin wizard passes that along, and the hobgoblin thinks about it and then replies. "Chief Grok says that good."

At this point, the goblins and their chief are all just kind of standing around looking at our heroes, like they're just waiting for them to leave. Firstborn, though, says: "...And maybe we could say that if one group needs help, they could come and ask the other?"

"Wait, we're making alliances with the goblins now?" asks Beautiful Wife.

Firstborn, bless him, just shrugs.

"Chief Grok thinks that good idea," says the goblin wizard.

At this point, the characters decide that it's definitely time to troop back up to the surface and report in, so they move past the goblins and head for the ramp.

Folks, this is going to make the next stage of the campaign so much easier. I honestly hadn't expected our heroes to parley with the goblins; I thought they'd probably jump into the middle of the fight and kill everything. But since they have, and with some degree of success, my plan to get them back down into the dungeon was to have one of the goblins come up and ask the for help. (The goblins, as you may have surmised, have a reasonably serious undead problem.) But Firstborn has conveniently gone right ahead and boldly laid down the groundwork for that, which will make things so much easier.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Tweets from the Eclipse

A horror story in thirty-four tweets:

Continued below:

Eclipse Music!

A Symphonic Metal cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart, performed by Celestial Decay:

The Police, with Invisible Sun:

Rush, with Between Sun and Moon:

Xandria, with Kill The Sun:

Love and Rockets: It Could Be Sunshine

The Hudsons, with Party in the Sun:

Dark Princess, with Yearning For The Sun:

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.