Thursday, February 21, 2019

Carboard Cartography, Part Two

The next step was to place the captions for the locations under the main map, against the backdrop, and glue them into place so they were visible through the cut-outs. After that, we glued down the mountains and the forest, which completed our lesson in cardboard geology.

As you can see, it's still not really done yet - the locations (spraypainted white) will need to be fitted into place, and the path of the journey will need to be marked, and we'll need to Label All The Things. But you're getting to experience the process of building this in much the same way we did: slowly and painfully, with a lot of waiting between steps.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cardboard Cartography, Part One

So, our first step was to sketch out the map on the sheet of cardboard. The next step was to take a second piece of cardboard, sketch out the forest (again) and cut that shape out of the smaller sheet of cardboard. Then we did the same for the mountain.

The forest and the mountain came out of the same sheet, so they fit together perfectly. They're going to go on top of the main map, giving the whole thing a 3D element. We spray-painted them (green and gray, respectively) and set them aside. All of that was on Sunday. On Monday, cut out all the Important Locations from the main map, being careful to label them as we went. Then we painted the main map tan, and the cut-out Locations white. The next step will be to glue the main map to the backboard, so the locations will have a floor under them when we press them back into place. We have to wait for the paint to dry, first.

It may not look like much now, but when it finally comes together I think it's going to be pretty awesome. The assignment calls for a "three-dimensional, interactive map showing the journey and at least seven important locations" and I'm pretty sure we've got that done.

Monday, February 18, 2019

School Project: The Map Of Doom

So the boys are out of school today, and Firstborn has a project due Thursday. I am determined to have this project finished, y'know, today.

The assignment is to read a book involving a journey -- they're reading The Hobbit in his class -- and then create some sort of interactive 3D map, which he can use to give a presentation. Now, I had ideas for how we might approach this. I favored using Martha Wells' excellent The Cloud Roads, in no small part because the book doesn't include a map of its own. So on the one hand, we'd have to build the map based on the text, and on the other hand there wouldn't really be any wrong way to do it. Plus, it would have been fun to build some of the locations in that book.

But Firstborn had decided to work from one of his Minecraft books, specifically the one that's... I don't know... number fifteen or sixteen in a series. So I committed myself to reading it. And it's... To be fair, I can see why he enjoyed it. But the books are intensely first-person stream of consciousness, so there's probably two pages of explanation/digression for every page of plot advancement. Plus, the author is clearly writing a serial: the individual books aren't very long, but they're part of a single, unbroken storyline. The result of these two factors is that the book I read simply didn't have enough locations (or events, for that matter) to fill in the required Seven Important Locations that we needed for the map.

Y'all, I have now read four of these books, digressions and all.

But we have now gotten enough information together to start building the map. We're building it in layers, out of cardboard, so that each location will be a little cut-out square that you can lift up to see information about why it's important and what happens there. This will involve spray paint, and white glue, and printing relevant text in blocks that will fit underneath the removable squares. It will absolutely not strain my concentration to the breaking point or leave me frustrated, drained, and questioning my worth as a parent and as a human being in general.

But just in case, send more whiskey.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Music: Valentine's Day

A bit of Trout Fishing In America, to help you celebrate Valentine's Day:

Alternatively, if you're taking the other approach to Valentine's Day, here's some nice, crunchy Godsmack for you:

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Back on Schedule-ish

I kept Secondborn home from school yesterday and took him off to see the pediatrician. (He's been grumpy and out of sorts for about a week now, and at one point told that he thought he maybe had Strep again. So, y'know, doctor visit.)

The Strep test came back negative, but the doctor put him on antibiotics anyway because his lymph nodes were swollen enough to warrant it. Apparently the stuff tastes pretty horrible even with the flavoring in it (or maybe because of the flavoring in it, who know?) but that's where we are.

A day at home with his father seems to have done him a world of good, even if it resulted in taking Yucky Medicine twice a day, so now I'm back at work and trying to get everything back on schedule. Also, I'm exhausted and out of sorts myself, so I think tonight it's going to be early bedtimes for everybody.

Hope the rest of you are doing well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's the little moments that make it all worthwhile

So being a parent is, you know... And, I mean, it's also kind of... Plus, you get to...

And then there are those moments when your younger child, who hasn't been feeling very well the last several days, comes to you because he's sad that his grandmother -- your mother -- is dead. And you have to comfort him, even though now you're unexpectedly sad all over again too. And he wants to go visit her grave, which is a good two days away by car, and really only slightly less by airplane.

Yeah. I don't know, maybe we can work something out for this summer.

Meanwhile, send whiskey. I'm about to deplete the supply.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Season of Ugh and Yuck

That's either the title of my upcoming YA novel, or it's an apt description of the family this weekend: a lot of stuffy sinuses, lack of energy, and general inability to focus, but nothing pronounced enough for me to say, "Aha! We're sick!" (Plus the weather has turned dreary, gray, and cold - at least, Texas cold.)

Secondborn, meanwhile, has been watching these family-produced shows on YouTube in which the kids engage in Nerf battles with their parents, each other, and occasionally secretive masked villains who are very definitely not just their parents wearing costumes. This has been a lot more of a problem than I would have expected. For one thing, it had him weirdly out of sorts last week (admittedly, some of that may have been this weird quasi-illness thing, too). For another, well, apparently the shows have introduced him to the concept of pranks, and now he wants to start pranking his brother.

It has not gotten off to a good start. His first attempt was to leave some lotion on his brother's bed, in the hopes that his brother would lie down on it and be... I don't know, smooth-skinned or something. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anything to hold the lotion so he finally settled on an old children's book from Beautiful Wife's childhood. Fortunately, the child's about as subtle as an elephant walking on airhorns, so his older brother immediately spotted the lotion-covered book. (Perhaps more fortunately, I was able to clean the lotion off the cover of the book.)

So this prompted some extensive discussion of how pranks work differently in real life than they do when you're essentially creating a TV show and everybody knows what's going on. It also prompted some discussion of how we treat books.

I don't much hold with pranks myself. I think that in far too many cases it's just a barely-disguised form of bullying, and that it sets up situations where it's really easy for something to go unexpectedly wrong. So tonight we'll be having that conversation, too.

So that's pretty much where we're at.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Accidental Warlock

This is a background piece for my upcoming #DnD character, assuming the game ever gets back off the ground...

Aristai Miseral looked up at the ten-foot-tall devil in front of him and said with a calmness that surprised even him: "I'm dead."

The room around them was frozen into stillness. Aristai could still see himself, bent over as he studied the pages of the ancient tome, the tongues of flame atop the room's candles and the fire in the hearth all turned to glowing crystal, the stars unflickering outside the wide windows. Only two things moved in this captured moment: the devil's mind, and his.

It was a magnificently crafted form, with red skin and neat black horns, black hair and a goatee, and startlingly human eyes in an inhumanly handsome face. The wings folded behind it were covered in black feathers, and the tail moved with graceful expressiveness. Its build was broad-shouldered, square and powerful, but otherwise human -- human enough to wear dark robes highlighted with traceries of gold and something that looked like spun rubies, and polished leather boots. Still, as beautiful and awful as it was, it was nothing compared to the glimpse Aristai had caught when it first looked at him from it unimaginably distant home. As strange and powerful as it might seem now, he knew that the devil had created this body when it stepped into this world, just as a human might pull on a suit of clothing before greeting a guest at the door.

What else did you expect? it asked, pushing the words into his mind without bothering to move its newly-shaped lips. You found the key to the Hellish Glyphs, and read from the Thrice-Dark Threnody. Did you think I would not notice? Did you think none of us would notice?

The devil's voice was the roar of flames and endless darkness, each word weighted with unimaginable agony, but the certainty of his death insulated Aristai from the fear that moved through his muscles in cold waves and raised all the hairs on his body. "I thought..." The young half-elf tried to swallow and found that he couldn't. "I thought it was a book of history."

The fiend froze, as still as the room around them.

Then it laughed, and the sound was the thundercrack of lightning, shivering through Aristai's body. Mortals! It started to reach for him, and Aristai saw the gleaming black claws that tipped its fingers. Then it stopped, and stepped to one side. Still, it was cleverly done.

Hope flared in Aristai's chest, though another part of him was certain this was just a trap to make his death sweeter for the devil. Somewhere in the back of his mind, yet another voice was still screaming at what he had seen before the fiend gave itself form. "I only wanted knowledge," he said.

The devil stepped closer.

One chance, mortal. You have have one chance. Swear yourself to my service, here and now, and I will let you live. Swear yourself to my service, and I will give you such knowledge as you never imagined possible.

Aristai didn't hesitate. It was a choice with only one possible answer: "I so swear. Let me serve you, and I am yours."

It is done.

A moment later he was back in his body, staring down at the explanation of the Great Consuming that had been nothing but a string of indecipherable runes for the endless, frustrating months of his studies. Then agony washed over him, as if his flesh burned all the way down to the bones.
He didn't know if he screamed, if he thrashed, if he fell. His vision was white agony, his hearing nothing but the endless roar of the devouring flames. He tumbled and turned, consumed by pain, until at last it gave way to darkness.

He blinked and looked around, aware that he was clutching the edge of the table and that the ancient tome that had been his obsession for the last eight months was gone. He did not know if he gripped the table because he had steadied himself against it, or if he had used it to pull himself upright. There was something wrong with his hand, his arm, his balance... his body.

His skin had turned a rich crimson in color, his fingernails black. He straightened, found his balance odd, and realized that he could feel something brushing against the back of his legs... and feel his legs with the tail that brushed against them. Cautiously, he rolled his shoulders and straightened his back, but he didn't seem to have wings. That was probably for the better; the tail was throwing him off more than enough already. If the fiend had given him wings, he probably would have needed to learn how to walk all over again. Cautiously, he touched his forehead and found the small, upturned, goatlike horns there.

It seemed the devil had remade him in the image of its chosen form, at least mostly. He doubted there was anything elvish left in his blood; he wasn't even sure there was anything human. At least he seemed to be close to his former size and build.

Then Tabratha opened the library door, saw him, and shrieked.

Aristai flung his hands up, but her eyes went past him to the fireplace. He turned, and saw the book atop the burning logs, already more than half-consumed by the flames.

The sight turned her fearful surprise to anger. "What did you do with Aristai?" she demanded.

He tried to answer, but his against his will his throat clenched and no words came out. You are finished here, said the voice of fire and darkness.

I am destroyed, he told it.

You are reborn. Go. Leave this place.

He took a step towards Tabratha, who was tall and pretty despite her purely human blood, but she stepped back and pulled the door closed. It probably didn't make any difference; he still couldn't speak. He had sworn himself to the fiend's service, and it still held his throat closed against the passage of words. He looked around the library one last time, seeing nothing worth taking with him, then stepped to the door that led out to the smooth stone of the veranda. A moment later he was over the carved stone railing and gone, vanished into the night.

He would need supplies, but he supposed he could steal those if he was careful. He would also need to remain unnoticed, and that would be far more difficult. Most vitally of all, he needed to find some way to be rid of this curse and restored to his former life. That, he suspected, would be the most difficult thing of all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Music: Make America Great Again

Sure, what the hell, let's make America great again. Music by Frank Turner, who isn't actually American:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

February Horoscope

Take a few moments for yourself this morning: eat a good breakfast, have an extra cup of coffee, whatever. Then go forth and rampage across the world, leaving a wake of chaos and destruction that will be remembered for a thousand years. This is your day.

Today is a good day for double-checking systems. Make sure the secret door works, the escape route is open, and your go-bag is ready. You won't need them today, but you're going to be very busy, very soon.

Stick to roads and sidewalks today, and avoid creeks, rivers, and other bodies of water. Carry a handful of salt in case something reaches up to grab you.

They'll come hunting you from the upper air, so stay indoors as much as possible. Some sort of hat may be in order.

Today is going to be horrible, but at least you can take comfort in the fact that absolutely none of it will be your fault. The police won't agree, of course, but that won't be your fault either.

Your missing stapler is on the boss' desk. If you're going to burn the whole place down and move to some tropical resort, today is the day to do it. Check the envelope on the floor before you leave the building.

Aliens will attempt to kidnap you today, but will be foiled by the accidental presence of a bird flying over your head. If you hadn't read this you would be none the wiser, but if you look up at just the right moment you might see the faint, shimmering outline of the ship.

Do not plan any trips today, not even to the grocery store. You already took a huge risk just by getting out of bed. This would be a great time to build a pillow fort; they can't sense you through the blankets.

This will be a great day for dropping things on the floor, so make sure you get a good grip on anything valuable or messy.

The dark winds howl endlessly between the stars, and the universe grinds on relentlessly: cold, dark, and incomprehensibly empty. This would be a great day for a hot bath and a chance to binge-watch your favorite show.

Do that thing you've been meaning to do today. You know the one. You can find lime and shovels at the construction site afterwards. Remember to wear gloves.

It'll be fine. Just reboot it, and it'll go back to asking if you want to play a game of chess. Averting a world-ending crisis has never been easier.

Well... Probably not car thieves

So on Saturday an actual moving van arrived. And the same guy was there, and was definitely directing the movers, and with a bit less familiarity than he'd shown with the the tow-truck driver. And at this point, the covered car in the driveway is no longer covered.

So I'm forced to assume (contingently, and also grudgingly) that he's actually just a guy moving into a house, albeit in the weirdest way possible.

I still feel like there's something going on, but now I'm wondering it's much more sordid and mundane than what we'd originally suspected: divorce, maybe, with the husband moving into the former-couple's rental house? Or maybe it's just like I said, and he's just some guy moving into a house in the weirdest and most suspicious way possible.

Regardless, he seems like a decent guy so far.

Monday, February 4, 2019

I Think The Civil War Was Run By Idiots

Compiled from Twitter:

So I'm reading a history of the Civil War, and... Y'all, I knew it was a huge, long, sometimes-bloody mess, but I hadn't realized the full scope of what a comedy of errors the whole thing was. I mean, some of that was down to the limits of intelligence-gathering and communications at the time, and some of it comes from trying to lurch from a functional peacetime economy to a state of total war with absolutely no preparation. But it sure doesn't help that activities on both sides - both military and political - seem to have largely been directed by idiots.

You want an example?

Well, all right: the one that prompted this post was the expedition of Henry H. Sibley, who offered his services to Jefferson Davis in the form of a plan to raise troops in Texas, then advance up the Rio Grand through New Mexico to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Once there, he'd drive out the federalists and turn west, eventually extending the Confederacy all the way to California (and picking up some gold and silver mines to help replenish the Confederate treasury along the way).

So he recruits his brigades and heads north from El Paso. And... well, the situation is really messy, but he basically is able to march north all the way to Albuquerque with only minimal resistance (from Fort Craig) but also with minimal supplies, in some very harsh desert. He then arrives in Albuquerque to find that that the Union garrison has set fire to their supply depots and fallen back to Santa Fe, so he takes what supplies he can find and moves on to Santa Fe, with the same result: no enemy soldiers, but no supplies to be taken.

At this point, Sibley is *shocked* to discover that the local population isn't going to greet him with cheering, parades, and floods of volunteers eager to swell his ranks. In fact, they're not very friendly at all, and they certainly aren't eager to let Sibley & Co. buy supplies with Confederate currency, which they regard as completely worthless.

Meanwhile, all the troops that have been retreating as he advanced have gathered at Fort Union. Sibley decides to attack, and... well, again, it's messy, but he meets the Union troops in Apache Canyon in a sort of horrible battle-by-attrition at Glorietta Pass. Except one unit of Union troops slips completely around the battle and torches his entire supply train. Sibley retreats to Santa Fe, and the main body of the Union Forces cautiously decides to hold Fort Union rather than risking a pursuit.

Meanwhile, the guy from Fort Craig - which Sibley had disdained to finish off after defeating its troops fairly decisively in one battle - comes north to Albuquerque, exchanges fire with Sibley's troops there, and calls for the Fort Union troops to come reinforce him.

So this should have been the set-up for a final, decisive battle to drive the confederates back down into Texas. Only Sibley has finally figured out his troops can't live off the countryside, the locals aren't going to help him, and he has no supply lines. His artillery is nearly out of ammunition, and his wagon train is gone. So he just... leaves. Heads back the way he came. Through the desert. With no supply train.

The Union forces at this point are basically just pacing him - like, they're not so much attacking as just escorting him out. This goes on for several days, until finally the Union forces wake up one morning to find that they're camped across the river from an empty camp.

Sebley has decided to make a hundred mile detour to the west, to avoid Fort Craig. Through the desert. With no road, no guide, dense brush, and only five days' worth of supplies for something like a ten day trip.

By the time he gets back to Texas he's lost something like 1700 of his troops, of which less than 500 were lost in battle. A lot the rest were lost in that last 100 miles of marching.

Sibley survives, but his idiot certainty that naturally he was the hero and the people of New Mexico would rise up to support his glorious arrival does not. His follow-up report is basically a long essay on what a horrible place New Mexico really is.

"I cannot speak encouragingly for the future, my troops having manifested a dogged , irreconcilable detestation of the country and the people."

Because, you know, invading armies and occupying foreign forces should really expect to receive *better* from the local populace. They deserve it for being so gosh-darned noble and heroic, don't you know?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Groundhog Day

They waited.

"Why are we standing beside a hole?"

"That's the burrow."

"Oh! So if it emerges..."

"...Then Spring is here."

"Wait, doesn't it need to see its shadow?"

It emerged then, almost too fast to see, coiled a fleshy loop around the slim form and dragged him into the narrow hole. It happened too fast for screaming; there was only the dull snap of breaking bones and a quick series of thumps and splats.

"No," the other replied to the now-empty air beside him. "It only needs to see yours."

He turned back to the waiting crowd. "The offering is accepted! The blood fills the earth! At last, the season shall turn!"

Cheers and cries of joy filled the first morning of Spring.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pretty Sure Those Are Car Thieves

So, the house across the alley from us has been a rental property ever since the elderly couple who lived there moved out and sold it off about a decade ago. It's gone through a couple of families (generally pretty congenial) until a few months ago when the most recent set of renters moved out. (I think that was because the owner had raised the rate.)

The time since has been... weird. For a while the house was just sitting empty. Then, starting a few weeks back, we had people going in and out through the garage, and producing a lot of trash in the bins. Mostly, it looked like they were just fixing the place up, though there was an odd moment where there were people inside and a minivan parked in the (open) garage, honking for/at them.

For the last week, the house has been sitting there empty with the garage door open. Which, even in our very-low-crime neighborhood, is odd.

Then last night at about 8:30, there was a large truck in the alley, which I didn't get a very good look at; I thought at the time that it might be a moving van. There was also a car parked on one side of the garage (which I also didn't get a very good look at) and a second car parked in the driveway in front of it, effectively blocking it in. The car in the driveway has one of those car covers on it, though it was either thrown on hastily or it was designed to cover an entirely different vehicle. I honestly didn't pay that much attention to it, mostly because aside from the large truck beeping loudly when it backed up, there wasn't any reason to. I mean, yeah, that seemed a little late to be trying to move in, but that kind of thing does happen.

Except that about 10:30, I heard the large motor and the beeping again, and opened the back gate to find that a very large tow truck was in my driveway, apparently trying to angle itself to deliver a car to the house across the alley. I bent down to inspect the license plate on the truck, which was when another guy (not the driver) came across the alley and half-shouted some sort of defensive explanation about how the tow truck hadn't hit my garage door. I asked him what it was doing here at this time of night, and he said he was moving in. (I was dubious but didn't contradict him.) I told him that the thing was awfully loud, and that I had school-age children asleep inside, and that he should finish this up.

So... that took until about 11:00, by which point I was increasing suspicious that something nefarious was going on, so I went outside again. I got out there to find the guy (who's "moving in") directing the tow truck in how to get angled so it could drive back out of the alley without hitting any of the various obstacles around it (fences, electricity exchange, etc.) Now, I'm sure the driver needed the help, what with trying to drive a ridiculously oversized tow truck (this is the kind of thing where the card actually rides up the bed of the truck, which can tilt down to be a ramp) in a suburban alley... but Guy Moving In was shouting directions to him by name ("Angle left, Michael!" "Okay, you're clear Michael!"), which seems a bit odd if you've simply hired someone to transport your vehicles for you. (And why would you transport them that way in the first place???) Then, once the truck was properly lined up and it drove off down the alley, he apparently hopped into yet another car and drove off after it.

The house itself doesn't look ready to be inhabited. There's little if any furniture, and there's still some stuff visible on the floor through the living room windows - looks like a pile of pulled-up carpeting or something similar. But now the garage door is closed (at last) with two cars presumably inside and a third (covered) car parked outside.

Now, maybe in a couple of days he'll get settled in and he'll turn out to just be a guy who collects cars and owns a towing company, and we'll find that Michael was one of his employees who got commandeered to help the boss move.


But the whole thing looks dodgy as hell right now.

Monday, January 28, 2019

My Father Takes The Next Step And I Am Weird

My father is not a man who was built for solitude. He needs to have people around; he needs talking and touching and interaction. He's an extrovert to an extent my introverted brain frankly finds a little hard to understand.

My mother's death hit him very hard. I mean, Hell, it hit me pretty hard, too. But for him it wasn't just the grief. It was also the solitude. Despite the best efforts of family and friends, and even despite getting a renter to live in the house with him, he was just spending a lot more time alone than was really good for him. There were also some medical issues that interfered with several of his hobbies (playing and repairing musical instruments, for example) and left him even more cut off. It was bad enough to have us all pretty worried even as recently as last June.

Somewhere in there, though, he acquired a girlfriend. Or -- I suspect more accurately -- she acquired him. I'm not certain of the exact timeline, but then I don't think my dad really is either. But this was someone he'd known for years, who'd been part of his music-playing circles, someone who'd also been in a long-term marriage and (relatively) recently lost a spouse. And it seems to have grown gradually out of the two of them spending time together.

Y'all, for the past several months my father has been happier than I've seen him since my mom died. He's out of the house, he's doing things, they're doing things...

So this past weekend, they got married. It was a relatively quick ceremony -- they plan to have a big All The Friends And Family party later. Possibly more than one.

And I thought I was okay with this. I still do, actually. Think I'm okay with it, I mean. Like, I can't think of anything about this that really bothers me. I don't see it as a betrayal of my mother; I'm not worried about how this might affect finances or inheritance; I honestly like the woman; and like I said, my father seems to have undergone some sort emotional resurrection and I'm grovelingly grateful for that.

Which makes it deeply weird to me that this one, relatively brief ceremony (with a nice meal afterwards) seems to have completely consumed my emotional energy for the weekend, but it did. I mean, I wasn't completely useless for the rest of the weekend, but there was an awful lot of I Shall Sit In The Back Room And Play Video Games and at one point I actually fell asleep while still holding the controller in my lap.

I suppose it's just the intensity of it. I suppose good emotions can be just as draining as bad emotions, if they're strong enough. But I really didn't expect to react this way, whatever "this way" actually is, and I'm bothered both by the reaction itself and by the fact that I don't really feel like I understand my own reaction.

Anyway. My dad is married again, and enjoying life again, and I'm deeply grateful for that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Weekly horoscope

Winter weather is headed your way. Not to your area or anyone around you; just you. Being indoors will not help; you'll just get snow on everything.

It's following you. Sometimes if you turn your head quickly you can just catch a glimpse of it. There's nothing to worry about, though. It actually wants to be friends, it's just very, very shy.

Today you will receive a letter from your old friend, who is now a reclusive inventor. He will invite you see his latest machine, a device designed to open human awareness to the whole of reality.

Don't go.

Be very wary of crossroads and doorways today, and make a point of crossing running water at least three times. Don't ask why; you really don't want to know.

That quiet day to yourself that you've been longing for will finally arrive when an apocalyptic plague sweeps the planet, leaving only a handful of survivors. The older woman in the one-bedroom house in the middle of corn fields is psychic; trust her.

The Super Blood Wolf Moon has given you the power to control the movement of air, but you must never use this power. The first time you try it, you will accidentally suffocate yourself.

This would be the perfect day to set your grand plan for the perfect crime into motion.

You will encounter a time-traveler today. Unfortunately, you will completely fail to recognize her, as she did her research and blends in perfectly with modern-day fashions and behaviors.

Signs point to trouble and possible injury from bunnies today. So if you see a rabbit or anything that looks like one, run the other way.

The world abounds in wonders and terrors, and we live in an age of miracles. Unfortunately, you're going to be stuck with just another dull day of grinding away at your job.

Today you will be invited to take part in a mystical quest to save a wondrous magical realm. Unfortunately, you will misunderstand the question and hand over the salt shaker from your table instead.

Today will go much better if you just go ahead and maim that one co-worker with his Excalibur letter-opener. You'll feel better about yourself afterwards, too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ash Knight: 1st Person Opening

"Let them burn," said the Knight-Commander, then turned away. "Let them all burn."

I stumbled as the memory took me, caught in the act of stepping from the walk to cross the street. For a moment I couldn't remember if I'd looked to either side, but apparently I had. At least, neither carts nor carriages bore down on me as I crossed into the trade quarter, and there were others crossing the street alongside me.

It wasn't anything dramatic that had set it off; just a chance of appearance, an aging clerk who looked something like the old Knight-Commander, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. Some days the memory is all but gone; other days, it's all but inescapable. Today, it seemed, was somewhere in between.

On the far side of the street, I took a moment to reassemble myself. I was here as Asrab Dul, a countinghouse clerk who frequently ran errands for his master. My clothes were still the same working-class formality, fancy enough to be respectable but nothing more. The height of the buildings here in the city of Verigor was enough to shield me from the worst of the daylight, so my skin wouldn't give me away.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Horoscopes, January 14 2019 edition

The darkness is hungry. Stockpile all the light sources you can: candles, lamps, flashlights. Make sure you have plenty of batteries and fuel for the generator.

They're behind the walls. They listen, and they wait. They know all your secrets, the big ones and the small ones. Today would be a really good time to look for a new home.

Stay away from water today. Any water. If you're thirsty, have someone make tea for you - but tell them to get the water all the way to a boil, and make sure the tea has at least five minutes to steep before you try to drink it.

It's buried under that tree you used to play in. It won't be easy to find, or to dig out. The tree's roots have claimed it for their own.

You'll have the most horrible nightmares tonight, but they don't actually mean anything. They're just random anxiety couple with snacking too close to bedtime.

Look twice -- look carefully --before making that left turn. This is very, very important.

There's something following you. You can't see it. You can't hear it. It is every bit a fearsome and malicious as you fear. It can't stand to hear people singing, though.

That restaurant you were planning to eat lunch at? Wait until next week for that. Go somewhere else, anywhere else, especially today.

Today would be a good day to take some time and really plan out the details of your revenge. It will make all of 2019 go much more smoothly.

You'll get your lab results back to day, and they'll be... ominous. Especially because you didn't know you were getting tested.

A dark stranger will be watching over you today, but he won't do anything to help. He's just watching, waiting for it to happen.

Stay close to other people today. Don't go anywhere alone. Trust me on this.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Return of DnD Night

So, last week our characters had a large battle, and then departed to deal with an elite squad who'd been sent to burrow under our wall so that they could pass troops and materials into our lands without difficulties. That breach was supposed to take place at Southpoint, which had been one of the five gatehouses along the wall until the Sol Povan army decided that it wasn't worth maintaining and sealed the gate.

We arrived at Southpoint to find that a small family of lizardfolk had been living in the ruins of the old gatehouse support buildings, and actually fixing them up with bits of whatever they found. They had some tunnels under their "home", but their tunnels were now "haunted". Also, they pointed out another group over on the far side of the wall, who had set up a large and colorful tent and were definitely Up To Something.

We concluded that the people in the tent were the elite mercenaries from the invading army, so naturally our bard strolled over to distract them by playing folk music at them. (In the real world, of course, this sort of behavior is forbidden by the Geneva conventions, but this is D'n'D...) The rest of us descended into the "haunted" tunnels beneath the lizardfolks' building after convincing them that we were, in fact, there to fix their toilets.

Things went... badly.

The "haunted" tunnels were haunted by skeletons, including two wolves and two Girallon skeletons -- very possibly the same ones we battled as living creatures last week. Meanwhile, as the group descended the stairs and moved to engage the skeletons, a pair of bad guys used a wall of ice to cut off our sorceress and promptly kidnapped her. This is bad. One of the two bad guys was the same Solarii who had come to warn us of the elite force trying to tunnel under this gatehouse, while the other was a Cassadia. (Cassadia turns out not to be a person so much as a convenient identity, or possibly an order of sorceresses who all use the name; either way, very definitely on the Bad Guys side, here.) This is worse.

The bard, meanwhile, found only two guards inside the tent and managed to subdue both of them through a ruthless combination of Charm Person and lullabies. The large wagon hidden inside the tent held a bullette, a giant burrowing monster also known as a landshark. (Cue the old SNL jokes, because we certainly did.) He then poked around until he found a chest that had... lots and lots of little bags full of ground-up gems. Which immediately caused the landshark to perk up like a two-month-old puppy. Which is almost exactly how the gnome bard treated it.

Back in the tunnel, the main group managed to put down the skeletons, then break back out past the wall of ice. One of the lizardfolk was yelling that the bard was in trouble, and sure enough we emerged to find that a bunch of armed warriors had come up from another tunnel on the far side of the wall, and were surrounding the tent.

I am here to tell you that while we rushed to attack them, it was the bullette that made all the difference. That thing is big, and tough, and (once all the bad buys were dead) surprisingly snuggly as well. So at the end of the game we'd killed four skeletons and twenty or so elite troops, we'd prevented the Bad Guys from connecting their tunnel to the existing ones, and we were missing our sorceress (who is also our linguist, which is almost certainly why she was taken).

Revenge. Will. Be. Ours.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Daddy Takes A Vacation Sort Of

As you can probably tell from the complete lack of activity here on the Blog o' Doom, I took the last three days off. Part of this is just to get some time to myself, which has been at least partly successful. The other part was to get the boys started back to school, since they began their new semester yesterday. The idea, of course, was that I would get everyone back on schedule, then have the days for some rest-and-activities of my own.

Unfortunately, I needed a lot more rest than I realized, and also I'm apparently much better at keeping everybody else on schedule than I am with myself. So the time off has not been as productive as I'd hoped, but it's still been good. Plus, we've gotten boys to school two days in a row without anybody melting down, so I should probably just take the win on that.

Despite our best intentions, I have not managed to play D'n'D with the boys at any time during the holidays; I hope to fix that this weekend. But mainly, I plan to go to bed tonight as soon as the boys do, possibly with some melatonin, and try to be thoroughly rested when I go back to work tomorrow. So, anything that doesn't get done this afternoon is just going to have to wait.

Things I haven't done:
Run DnD for the boys
Any real writing

Things I have done:
Gotten the new Windows 10 laptop up and running (which, wow, I always forget how much work that is)
Run a lot of laundry and cleaned up the kitchen a bit
Drunk a lot of tea
Read the first two books of K.B. Wagers' The Indranan War series, which are essentially space opera and a great deal of fun: politics, intrigue, violence, explosions, well-developed characters, a strong Found Family vibe, and suitably villainous villains. (I need to come back and do a proper review of these, and I probably will once I finish the trilogy.) If that sounds like your kind of thing, check them out.
Played DnD

Things yet to do:
Yeah, that would be the writing

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Post: DnD Night, Finally

Earlier this week I finally caught up on where we are in the campaign (the one where I'm a player, not the one I'm running for my children). Essentially, we've brought powerful magical weapons back to the fort and they made a decisive difference when the massive army on our doorstep decided to attack the fort. (Between what we've learned here and what our earlier set of characters discovered, someone powerful is playing a very deep game; there's some legitimate reason to believe that this entire invasion -- composed of barbarian tribes, bugbear tribes, several mercenary troupes from the far side of the desert, at least a handful of girallons, and we're-not-sure-what-all-else -- is actually some kind of feint.) The would-be invaders, after being repulsed once, stayed put for three days; then the lord's Solarii (basically, a knightly-ish order for very-high-level characters of any class) scried that one of the larger mercenary companies was moving, and was sending expeditions to attack the gatehouses along the wall.

The available Solarii went with sections of the troops from the fort, one to each gatehouse -- except for the troops of Captain Sacha, under whose command our characters originally soldiered. Captain Sacha was being sent to the southernmost active gatehouse, and there simply weren't any more Solarii available to accompany him. So he appealed to our characters for assistance and naturally we went with him. (We're still technically soldiers of the fort, and drawing pay, but we'd been out on special assignments for several months, and our current place in the chain of command was... uncertain. So having Sacha request our services as a special unit actually kind of clarified our role within the fort and the Sol Povan military.)

At which point we got to try out our DM's latest attempt to combine mass combat/wargaming rules with regular Dungeons and Dragons. (We're using 3.5 edition, if you're curious and didn't know already.) It... actually worked pretty well, at least to my eye. He has a spreadsheet set up in Excel where he assigns a challenge rating to each unit (which are generally either 16 soldiers or 1 special/higher-level character) and when they come into conflict each side rolls a D20 and compares the results. Depending on who came out ahead, some bonuses for environmental factors (like, say, firing from a fortified gatehouse which offers height and cover) and whether the combat is reciprocal, one or both sides loses some percentage of their troops/hit points. (By "reciprocal" I mean that if you have archers firing down on advancing infantry from the top of a wall, the infantry don't damage the archers regardless of how they roll - but if they roll well, they lose a lot fewer people. But if if you have two infantry units in melee, it's reciprocal and both sides take casualties.) It's basically a way to have the characters participate in a large-scale battle, but one where -- because of their comparatively high character levels and the way that affects personal power in D'n'D -- they can still affect the overall battle with their individual actions.

And while it's not perfect and it still has some wrinkles to iron out, it basically works.

(The other approach, in general, is to reduce the overall battle to a collection of smaller encounters with the larger battle serving essentially as the background/setting for those scenes. From a writing perspective, you can also sort of write about the opposing armies and/or individual units as opposing characters, but that doesn't translate well into the typical D'n'D experience. It could probably done if somebody cared to put in the time, or if you did something akin to switching out to classical wargaming for a session, but I don't know of any native systems for it. This approach, while not perfect, does a surprisingly good job of bridging the gap between those two.)

So: fighting from behind/atop a fortified wall with five units of line soldiers (four of which could also serve as archers) and their five lieutenants and the captain also acting as one-individual units, our... 80 line soldiers plus 4 ballista plus 9 exceptional individuals annihilated some 400 would-be invaders, plus their general (who should have been a more serious threat, but he had planned to approach in an armored chariot and we killed the dire boar pulling the cart with a ballista shot in the first round), plus two girallon using tower shields who were effectively siege towers in their own right. We lost, I think, roughly half of our troops, including one of the lieutenants. It's been a long time since I considered majoring in Medieval Studies, and the power imbalances in D'n'D skew things more than a little, but that seems about right to me for infantry assaulting a fortified position with one battering ram and two (monsters who might as well have been) siege towers.

We concentrated on the foot on our first round, to slow their advance; when their archers responded, we realized we needed to take them out in order to survive long-term, so on the second round we switched (very effectively) to attacking troupes of archers. The general lost his armored dire boar in the first round, and wound up huddled in his armored battle chariot for most of the combat, until we'd killed enough of his troops to allow the ballistae to start making it a target. Clearing out the archers let the infantry advance relatively unmolested (after the first round) but once the archers were gone there nobody left in a position to damage us and we were able to whittle down the advancing infantry until they reached the walls (and, actually, even after). The girallon were tougher, and were the first up the wall -- like I said, they were essentially siege towers, except they were actually monsters -- but we were able to wear them down, mostly from a distance. The fighter managed to trip the first one when it made it to the top of the wall, and while he took a lot of damage from it that probably kept everything from going horribly wrong.

By the time the general realized we were smashing his shelter and charged the wall, it was too late. The archers were busy elsewhere; the people shooting at him were the ones aiming the ballistae. He... didn't last long.

And my elvish rogue/ranger (who is quite effective as an archer) got to wipe out a couple of companies by himself, from atop a tower behind the walls (Legolas-style, I rather imagine) so I was quite pleased with the session, as well as the outcome.

Shortly after the battle ended, one of the Solarii arrived from the next post up. He'd come to offer aid that we clearly didn't need, and bring warning of an elite group that was apparently planning to tunnel beneath the wall at the southern end, where the final gatepost had long ago been sealed up. So we surrendered the soldiers of the line to his command, took the captain and his lieutenants with us, and headed south to deal with this new threat.

We slept first. Even with magical healing, you do that after a battle.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

...Okay, fine, I'm sick again

So I'm trying to get the boys (and the family in general) back on schedule before they start school again next week. Firstborn did fine; he got up and exercised, then wandered off to watch videos. Meanwhile I had to carry Secondborn out to the couch, and he has yet to open his eyes despite lights, prodding, and Pokemon going on the TV. He's just out. And frankly, I am too - I'm still suffering from a bit of sore throat/cough/low energy that I'm pretty sure came into town with the extended family. (It's not as bad as it was for them, but it looks and feels like a milder version of the same stuff, and I don't seem to be shaking it off.) So... sick day for me today, and early bedtimes for everybody until further notice. Ugh.

I'd make some snarky comment about how this is a grand way to enter 2019, but honestly I'm still just pleased that I didn't spend most of the 2018 holiday season this way.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Resolutions

Okay, it's here. In 2019, I will:
  1. Do more writing.
  2. Take better care of myself.
  3. Be kind to people.
  4. Summon the dark gods from their restless eternal entrapment and plunge the world into darkness, fire, and silent chaos.
  5. Learn to bake!