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.