Friday, November 30, 2018

Again? Again.

So I've been doing that thing where I stay up a little too late trying to get things done, don't get them done, and then stay up even later the next night trying to get them done. If this sounds like a vicious cycle leading directly to dangerous levels of exhaustion, then I salute you: you have a keen grasp of the obvious. Unfortunately, at least in my case, seeing it isn't tantamount to controlling it. Though, I don't know, I may be at least getting better at not staying up quite so late or letting myself get quite so tired.

Anyway: tonight we sleep, next week we do more writing. My goal for next year is to get at least one novel finished, cleaned up, and on track to be published. (Yeah, I realize it's a bit early for a New Year's Resolution. What can I say. I'm a rebel? Sure, we'll go with that.)

Anyway, I'm mostly typing this all up as a way of telling to myself, to remind me to actually follow through on it.

How're the rest of you doing?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Medieval Death Map

So... The University of Cambridge's Violence Research Centre has published a map showing homicide deaths in late-medieval London, as collected from the coroner's rolls. It's very, very cool.

My advice? Be careful who you insult, and stay out of Cheapside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Music: You should see me in a crown

Billie Eilish:
(The video has spiders in it, so if you're phobic maybe switch the screen and just listen to the audio.)

(I grabbed this one because I like the song, but man... that video looks like she ought to be some sort of Game of Thrones character...)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Boys and DnD: The Ruins At The Back Of The Forest

"Two days later your arrive at the camp. It's a logging camp, so you've spent most of the last two days following a packed dirt road up into the hills. The hills have gotten steeper and the road has gotten more winding as you progress. It's late in the day and the woodcutters are just trooping back into the camp when you arrive.

The camp occupies a good-sized clearing and has obviously been here for some time; the buildings are wood, with solid walls and angled roofs which have been coated with some kind of bright-colored lacquer to make them weatherproof. The wood walls are less colorful, but they share a uniform golden shine that suggests some kind of care and treatment. All in all, it doesn't look like a bad place to work.

The troopmaster hurries over as the wagons pull up and stop. He's an older human male, with a large belly but solid, muscular shoulders. His head is bald, but a thick red beard falls to the middle of his chest. He recognizes lord Ardivil immediately, and offers respectful greetings."

The Camp:
"The buildings of the camp are even more comfortable than they seem from the outside. The woodcutters have clearly been allowed to decorate, and various scenes have been painted with various levels of skill on the inside walls. The woodcutters share a pair of large barracks-like buildings at one end of the camp, while the four overseers share a smaller building nearby. The troopmaster has a building of his own, an office with living quarters in the back. Cut trees are stored in a large, open-sided pavilion on the far side of the camp until they can be loaded onto wagons and sent back to the main warehouse in Stalmont. There is another large building that holds supplies and equipment, and in the center of the camp is the dining hall: a building every bit as large as the supplyhouse, with a wide covered porch along one side.

The woodcutters are mostly human, but you see a couple of elves, three gnomes, a single dwarf, and a giant half-orc who slouches along so as not to overtower his companions. Two of the overseers are human, while one is an elf and the last seems to be half-and-half. It's not immediately obvious how many are men and how many are women; everyone out here has their hair cut short, and their faces are dark and rough from sun and weather.

Lord Ardivil's arrival is greeted with excitement, especially since he's brought barrels of dried fruits and vegetables, wheels of cheese, and other niceties of civilization that aren't always available out here. A few of the woodcutters complain that they won't get to eat any of that until tomorrow, since dinner was already prepared, but even the complaints seem fairly good-natured.

Lord Ardivil and Expedition Leader Victoria will have the extra rooms in the overseers' building, while you and the drivers will be sleeping in the barracks with the woodcutters.

The troopmaster, whose name turns out to be Durrel, explains all this while he leads you into the dining hall and over to the food line, where you fill your trays and follow him to a table. Dinner is some sort of meat in a mild cream sauce, along with spearplant and dark bread. It's plain, but filling. As you eat, he explains how they discovered the ruins.

The dirt road that leads to the camp actually continues on the other side further up into the hills. Everybody assumed that was just for logging further back in, but a few weeks ago one of the gnomes got curious and on rest-day she and her friends decided to follow it as far as they could. Turns out the road goes all the way back to the edge of the mountains, and right there at the first big cliff there's another clearing with a bunch of big stone buildings. And there are rooms cut back into the side of the mountain. So they explored a little bit, wondering if maybe we should move the camp up there or use the ruins as a second camp. Well, word got around pretty fast when they got back, so I figured I should send a team up to really look around. And what they found was that the rooms cut into the mountain also have doors in back, doors that open into a kind of connecting hall. And that connecting hall leads back into a giant cavern further inside the mountain... and there's a whole city back there.

So we pulled everybody out, and sent word to the owners. It seemed like the smart thing to do. Bulora, the dwarf, tells me the stonework is very old -- but between being simple and solid, and having been out in the weather for centuries, she can't tell who might have built it. Laremin, over there -- the elf overseer -- led the search party, and after looking over the ruins he thinks there's an old stone road somewhere under the dirt road. He says that's why the trees haven't grown over it. And that's really all I can tell you about it."

In the morning the party and lord Ardivil walk the half-mile up the trail, and get their first glimpse of the ruins.

The buildings formed a rough half-circle out from the edge of the cliffs. Not much was left: just stone walls and paving stones, and even the paving stones were beginning to give way to the forest. Stray blades of grass had wedged themselves in between the stones, and here and there a stunted tree had forced its way up as well, shoving the stones aside. There was no sign of whatever furnishings the stone frames of the buildings must once have had: no remains of roofs, no frames for doors or windows in the openings in the walls. The insides had accumulated layers of windblown dirt and leaves along with a fair amount of moss and lichen, enough to allow the occasional patch of grass, single flower, or even a small tree in the corners of the buildings.

The party checked carefully, but found no sign of danger: nothing more than small forest animals around and the slowly-conquering plants. With the outer buildings explored, they checked the cliff-face openings. Most likely those were dwellings: the rooms were small, no more than twenty feet by thirty, but fireplaces and shelves had been carved out of the stone. And on the far side of the room was another doorway, which led to a small area that was probably used for storage, and then on to a cross-tunnel that led to the connecting hall that troopmaster Durrell had described earlier. The hall was strangely undecorated: the stone skillfully carved, but with no statues, no reliefs, no little flourishes in the stonework. Firstborn's paladin, Lithos, speculated that perhaps the walls had been covered in murals and they'd simply been covered by a layer of dust or faded away over time.

The connecting hall was forty feet across, with two rows of columns that marched back along its length. The party followed it to its end, where it emerged onto a broad balcony overlooking the underground city.

The city occupied the bottom half of a roughly spherical cavern, with rows of buildings marching down in steps to the bottom center. There was a larger structure down there, but between the distance and the darkness and the fact that everything here was the same color of stone it was hard to make out. The city wasn't completely without light, though: small, flickering lights drifted through the air of the cavern, shining and disappearing and shining again. From their place on the balcony, nobody could tell whether these were animals, spirits, or some sorcerous sort of lighting. The entire place was eerily silent; the only thing the party could hear was themselves. After a time, lord Ardivil suggested that they head back. The group agreed that it seemed safe enough to bring a wagon up to the outer ruins and establish a camp there, which could serve as a base of operations for exploring the city. They were an hour's walk from the logging camp, so they could always pull back if they discovered some danger.

...And that was where we left it. It wasn't the most exciting episode I've ever run, but all this is background and set up for the things that come next, which... well, our bold adventurers will just have to wait and see.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Parenting Quests

Me: "All right, I guess it's time to make breakfast for the boys. I'll scramble some eggs."

Gnomish old man by the stove: "To cook eggs, you will need a clean pan. Take this pan, find the legendary Sink of Dishwashing, and there you can turn this dirty pan into the clean pan you need."

Me: "Who are you and why are you in my kitchen?"

Gnomish old man by the stove: "Just go with it. Adventure awaits!"

Me: "Okay, fine."

::takes pan to the sink::

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Alas! The Sink of Dishwashing has been corrupted!"
Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Dirty dishes are everywhere and there is no room for cleaning pans!"
Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Can nobody save us from this doom?"

Me: "Who are you and why are you in my kitchen?"

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the flipper."

Me: "Okay, fine, whatever."

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Perhaps if some of these dishes were taken to Cave of Cleaning, there would be room to scrub your pan."
Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Also, the whole place would look a lot nicer."

Me: "Cave of Cleaning? You mean the dishwasher?"

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "I speak of a magical cave, from whence dirty dishes emerge... clean!"

Me: "That's a dishwasher. Okay, fine, whatever."

::opens dishwasher::

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the Cave of Cleaning dishwasher: "Greetings, and welcome to the Cave of Cleaning!"

Me: "Oh, dear ye immortal gods... Who are you, and what are you doing in my dishwasher?"
Me: "Also, how are you alive in there?"

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "I am the Keeper of the Cave of Cleaning."

Me: "Well, good. 'Cause I need to clean some things."

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "Sadly, we cannot help you this day. As you can see, the Cave of Cleaning is already full!"

::looks closer::

Me: "These dishes are clean."

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "Of course! For that is what the Cave of Cleaning is for!"

Me: "So really, all I have to do is put these away."

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "You would undertake such a quest? Truly you are a brave and gallant man."

Me: "Fine, sure, whatever."

::unloads dishwasher::

Anthropomorphic Turtle in the dishwasher: "Behold! Our champion returns triumphant!"

Me: "Well, don't get too relaxed. I've got another load incoming."

::loads dishwasher::
::starts dishwasher::
::decides not to worry about what happens to the turtle when we reach the heated drying cycle::

Anthropomorphic Frog next to the sink: "Joy and praise! We are saved!"

Me: "Yeah, fine, you're welcome."

::cleans pan::
::dries pan::
::sets pan on stove::

Gnomish old man by the stove: "I see you fared well on your quest! Congratulations and well done!"
Gnomish old man by the stove: "To scramble eggs, you must seek the Cave of Cold and retrieve eggs and possibly some grated cheddar."

Me: "Refrigerator. It's a refrigerator."

::opens refrigerator::
::spies anthropomorphic mouse in a little hat inside::
::closes refrigerator::
::sighs deeply::
::opens refrigerator::

Mouse in a little hat: "Welcome to the Cave of Cold!"
Mouse in a little hat: "All manner of wonders lie inside."
Mouse in a little hat: "But there are great dangers as well!"
Mouse in a little hat: "Dare you brave the depths?"

Me: "..."
Me: "..."
Me: "Who are you and what... no, never mind."

::grabs eggs and cheese::

Mouse in a little hat: "Bold and skillful!"
Mouse in a little hat: "At last, an adventurer worthy of the name!"

Me: "Yeah, I can lift a bag of shredded cheese in one hand. It's very impressive."

::closes refrigerator::
::scrambles eggs with cheese mixed in::
::sets food on table::

Me: "Boys! Come and eat!"

Boys: "Thanks! But why did it take so long?"

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Turkey

This is actually a very old picture (circa 2004) but as a bit of Thanksgiving dessert it was quite successful!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Time With Extended Family, a poem

Holidays are almost here

It's time to show your relatives how you've spread your wings

And how you've flared your spines

How you flex your talons

How you stoke the flames in your chest

Until they're ready to spill past your fangs and engulf everything around you

While you stand untouched by the inferno

And laugh

Or you could just stay home

And read a book

Perhaps a cup of tea?

Tea would be nice

After all, you don't owe them anything

There's no reason

To emerge from your lair

Unless you want to

Monday, November 19, 2018

D'n'D resumed! Political developments...

So last Tuesday we finally resumed the Dungeons and Dragons game that I've been playing in (as opposed to the one I've been running for my children, which has also been delayed but not as long). It's been at least six weeks, and apparently I missed the last game before the extended hiatus.

Our characters had located an ancient ruin in the desert, found our way inside, and successfully retrieved the Ancient Magical Siege Weapons - and then promptly had to use them to fend off a horde of attacking undead, because our bard has no sense of self-preservation and Touched The Thing when he shouldn't have. We'd used a portal to get inside, and it took some looking to find a way back out. Finally, though, we found a carved magical gate, which led us into another set of ruins and out into the crypts below a temple.

It was there we met a young sorceress, apparently mute, with a parrot for a familiar. She'd come into the crypts in search of something - treasure, probably, or maybe just mischief - and gotten trapped by undead. Once we established that we weren't undead and didn't seem likely to gnaw on her skull, she helped us find the way back to the surface.

This placed us firmly in a town whose name I've completely forgotten, but which is basically Sidequest City. And boy, have we done some side-quests. In no particular order:
  • We've looked over the local temple, where they worship a chaotic sea god.
  • We've figured out that the wizard who was selling dragon-protection potions was basically just scamming people.
  • The bard and my rogue/ranger helped the bard's most recent girlfriend break into the wizard's house in search of a magical treasure, which she apparently took for herself right before turning the wizard into a statue and leaving town.
  • We've gone in search of a missing sword, which was a wedding a gift for the local lord's also-missing son, found it, and returned it to the lord.
  • We've trapped and destroyed the vampire who murdered the lord's son.
  • We've been spying on another lord from nearby ("Naima" or something similar) as he coordinated with chieftains from the desert barbarians and the local bugbear tribes.

This is probably not the most efficient way to carry out our duties to the fort and its soldiery, but we kind of needed the time to figure out what to do on that front. The issue is that... well... we were assigned to bring the Magical Siege Weapons back to the fort for the Baron's use. The best way to get them out of the ruins would be to carry them through the magical gate. We don't want to do that while we're here, obviously, but the gate could be moved - except it's large, made of stone, hidden in a crypt, and not easy to either remove or to transport, even if nobody objected. So: sidequests, and looking for ways to ingratiate ourselves with the local lord, whose name is Crock or something like it.

Well, we're pretty ingratiated now that we've solved the mystery of his son's disappearance, returned the wedding gift, and avenged the son's death. So naturally the local lord invited us to a party at his manor. This required us to find dates - and not with other people in our party, either. About that, well... the less said the better. My skulking would-be Batman (ranger/rogue) wound up going with a sort of emo druid, for whom we also need to perform a sidequest.

Anyway, we arrived at the part, and not only was the local lord there, but among the various other notables was the villainous lord Naima (or however you spell that). During the mingling-before-dinner stage of the event, Naima stopped a couple of our party members and essentially offered them jobs. He was, he said, putting together an invasion, and the lord Crock had assured him that we were the sort of group that could get things done. With the bugbears and the desert tribes behind him, the fort would fall and he would be able to press into Sol Povos. This wasn't entirely new to us, of course. Not only had we been spying on them for the last week or two, but we'd actually invaded the guy's house on the suspicion that he was involved in the attacks on the fort. As soldiers in the border guard of Sol Povos, well... basically, part of the reason we were out here was to deal with the situation he wanted us to help him create.

Our bard mentioned that he'd heard some indications that the invasion was actually going to be a bluff, that lord Naima and his allies were likely to be sacrificed as part of some deeper plot (which is true), but lord Naima wasn't having it. He considered his victory inevitable. "It's too bad the Baron will have to die," he told us. "Still, his bloodline won't go to waste. I'll take his wife for my own, and each of you could have one of his daughters." The bard assured him that we'd think about it, and then everybody sat down for dinner. (Some of us in the main dining hall, some of us outside.)

Dinner was... interesting. Lord Crock had apparently had enough of Lord Naima, and began insulting him. He even asked our fighter, "Which daughter did he promise you, then?"

Our bard managed to defuse the situation before it got too ugly, but the villainous lord Naima stormed out of the room and went down to the wine cellar, where his bugbear ally was already fourteen bottles into his own celebration. This seemed to consist largely of lying on the floor with no pants on, drinking liver-killing amounts of wine, and singing off-key. The bard took that opportunity to step outside and bring my character up to date.

Vendril thought about all this for a couple of minutes, then excused himself from the emo druid and went inside. He stationed himself inside the house, at the top of the steps to the wine cellar. Below, he could hear lord Naima pacing back and forth and muttering things like "kill him... didn't need him" between snatches of drunken bugbear songs. By the time he came back up the stairs, Vendril had decided that Lord Naima was the sort of man who clearly needed a knife in his kidney, so I put one there.

By the time the dust settled, Vendril and the young sorceress had taken down lord Naima and the bugbear (who was fighting with a broken bottle and no pants), while the fighter and the cleric held off and eventually killed the two barbarian war-leaders. Lord Crock even heard enough to step in and get involved in taking out lord Naima. So at the end of the party, a big chunk of the visible leadership for the invaders was dead, our party was remarkably (and luckily) unscathed, and Vendril clapped lord Crock on the shoulder and told him that he threw the best parties.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Today's Horoscope

I was going to write about the last episode of the DnD game (the one I play in, not the one I'm running for the boys) but I was too tired. So, instead, you get today's horoscopes as I posted them on Twitter:

You'll discover an ancient manuscript hidden behind a false wall in the closet. If you decide to translate it, do *not* read any part out loud.

Today will be a day for resolving interpersonal problems. It'll be tricky, but you'll manage. Dishwashing detergent mixed with water will do better than baking soda to get the blood out of the carpet.

Pick your battles today. No, not those battles. That's a bad choice. Pick different battles. You really need to rethink this whole strategy.

Don't let anyone get their claws into you today. Get your claws into them instead. Use fangs if needed. And venom. Just go ahead and use as much venom as you need. You're a fearsome beast, so act like it.

You won't know if you're coming or going today. You *really* need to fix the oscillation modulator on your prototype teleportation pod.

Oh, you really shouldn't have done that. Just go back home now and find a place to hide for a while. It should all blow over in a few days, as long as nobody sees you.

Don't hide your flame under a bushel. Share it with the world. All the world. Watch it burn. Savor the inferno.

All you really need to know about today is that the idiot who cut you off in traffic this morning is going to get into a really bad accident going home. Also, you're welcome.

Great things are coming your way soon. They're bloodthirsty and really fast. You should really start running. Now. Water will throw them off the scent.

Check the wards on your home, and keep some ash and oak nearby. You're going to need them.

Following the left wall won't work. The maze keeps changing. It'll only let you out if you coax it, so just keep talking about how cool the place is while you make your way along.

Today will bring an end to strife, and possibly all life on the planet as well; make sure your shelter is fully stocked, and you don't need to make a last-minute run for whiskey or chocolate.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones: First Period

Kate was almost to her next class when Kisha stepped out of the bathroom, stopped abruptly, and gave her almost the same look that Julian had. She slowed, stopped, and returned the girl's regard. "Yes?"

"Girl..." Kisha drew the word out, then stopped and said, in a clipped, precise, academic accent: "What have you done?"

Kate opened her mouth, closed it again, then made herself take a breath. "Okay," she said. "I know you aren't working with Julian, so what the hell is going on? Why do you guys keep staring at me?"

Kisha stopped, eyes wide and head slightly turned. Then her eyes narrowed, and she grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her into the bathroom. Kate didn't fight it; privacy suddenly seemed like a very good idea.

When the door swung shut behind them, Kisha stepped back and looked her over. "You're... more than you were yesterday. And it wasn't one of those half-assed white-boy rituals that Julian and his friends with Families are so proud of, either."

That was when everything fell into place. "Oh, shit," said Kate, stepping back and leaning against the wall. "There was a shadow in my brother's room. He's afraid of the dark, and it kept coming back, and he was waking up. He was waking us up."

Kisha looked puzzled. "So you...?"

"I got tired of it. I told it to stop bothering us."

Kisha's eyes widened. "You took it into you."

Kate nodded warily.

"That's..." Kisha shook her head. "You've got some balls, girl."

Kate shook her head and looked away. "I was just frustrated and angry."

"...But you must have walked into the dark. You must have spoken with it. It must have understood you."

Kate stopped, frozen by the memory, and felt the shadow raise itself to look out through her eyes again. It curled around her spine, wary and interested, then withdrew. "...Yes," she said, when that moment had passed.

"And Julian noticed too? Dismore?"

Kate nodded uncertainly.

Kisha let out a breath, eyes narrowed. "Maybe we can confuse him. Get to your class, I'll find you after."

Kate nodded, turned towards the door, and then turned back. "Kisha?"

The other girl looked at her. "Yeah?"

"Thank you."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fluidized Sand

It's been a while since the Mad Scientist has checked in, but here's a bit of coolness in case you've been missing it:

This was the genesis of Firstborn's Science Fair project. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the guy in the video say something like, "We went through about twenty-five versions before we got it to work." Annnnnnnnnd, yeah, that sounds about right. Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Urgle Blarg

Who am I, again? What was I doing? What century is this anyway? Does anybody here remember my name, and if so could you remind me what it is?

This morning was seriously like:

...Except I don't get any cool transformations out of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Send Whiskey, STAT

We're attempting to deal with the underlying intestinal issues that resulted in Secondborn having hernia surgery back at the beginning of the summer. This involves the child drinking a very great deal of some of the foulest-tasting medicines imaginable. And if there's one thing an eight-year-old boy wants to know when he finds himself in such dire straits, it's that someone else is suffering as he suffers. On this day, his mother is the chosen sacrifice. She, too, is Taking The Medicine. She, too, partakes of the suffering.

I, meanwhile, have had to pop into work twice because the automated job I'm running to clean up my database and make it run better is also locking people out of the database and making it (effectively) not run at all, at least until I go in and reset the connection. Which means I've got to find a better way to do this, because there is literally never a time when we have nobody in the system. This, however, is more of a practical annoyance and an existential worry; what's killing me right now is Firstborn's Science Fair Project, which is due Tuesday, and which has been "almost done" for perhaps four weeks now.

"Almost done" (for those of you who aren't parents or are otherwise unfamiliar with the phrase) means "we've got some of it put together but we haven't tested anything, and it's almost certainly not going to work the way we want it to, but we really don't have time to rebuild it from the ground up." In this particular case, it also means that I keep moving the thing outdoor to test it, then back indoors because I can't be sure that it isn't going to rain. This would all be much easier if I had an unlimited budget and a team of engineers and craftsmen under my direction. I'd look like a fucking genius if I had an unlimited budget and a team of engineers and craftsmen under my direction. Instead, I have a recalcitrant twelve-year-old, a lot of pvc, an air pump, some sand, a hot glue gun, and the rapidly receding hope that all this will somehow come together into a working fluidized sand bed.

Don't send hopes and prayers.

Send whiskey.

(I'd hoped to crank out a few more pages of story this weekend, but... no. Just, no. But that's okay, I'm not bitter.)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Human Nature

I'm beginning to think that a surprisingly large number of problems in our society actually boil down to the fact that a large percentage of the population can't tell the difference between Decisive Leadership and Basic Assholery.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Post-Midterm Elections Hot Take

Well, we didn't blow up the Death Star last night. At least, I wouldn't read it that way. But then, that was always a longshot - you know, like trying to hit a thermal exhaust port that's only two meters wide with proton torpedoes while engaged in a dog fight with Imperial Tie Fighters.

What we did do, I think, was more on the order of sabotaging the Imperial shipyards. And if we can halt production there, then that sets us up with more of an advantage for the next big battle.

This election was never going to fix everything. There is no quick fix for this. Where we are now? It's the culmination of years (and in some areas, centuries) of people gimmicking our political system. It's going to take years to try to fix, and if the best we can do right now is put the brakes on some of the worst abuses, well...

It's a start. And it's a start worth celebrating.

So we take what we got. And then we get back to work.

Sometimes the best you can do is rescue your friends and get the hell out of Cloud City. We did a lot better than that.

And... if you don't find me encouraging enough? Read this whole thread. Fewer Star Wars references, but a good look at where we are and why even the losses matter.

Martha Wells also has an excellent take (which I fully agree with) on why she's sick of people blaming Texas for remaining weighted-Republican. Texas actually did pretty well, under the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The thing about victory... that even if we get a victory, we're not done.

You don't get to just blow up the Death Star and go home. That's the kind of thinking that gets you frozen in carbonite. I mean, sure - stop and celebrate. If we pull it off, we'll have put a big damper on the Empire's ability to just go around blowing up planets. But they'll still fall back on fleets and stormtroopers and Imperial bureaucracy. We'll still need to keep working to minimize the damage that they're trying to do.

They're not going to stop. Even if we do blow up the Death Star -- and that's not even remotely guaranteed -- they're just going to try to build another one. So we have to stick with it. We have stay organized and keep up the opposition. (And we can't keep expecting the murder-bears of Endor to save us, either.)

So get out there and vote today, but be ready to keep at it tomorrow (or day after, or the day after that -- it's okay if you need a bit of a rest after all this).

(I mean, we all know perfectly well that Luke and Han and Chewbacca all went down to the cantina and got thoroughly drunk and then slept for like fourteen hours after they got back to the Rebel base, right? There was some serious recuperation time between Blowing Up The Death Star and the Victory Awards Celebration.)

Still hiding...

...Here's hoping we'll turn a corner, and even if it doesn't make everything right again we can at least slow the collapse.

Meanwhile, if you want a reasonable summary of where a lot of people I know seem to be right now, have read through Lilith Saintcrow's Let Me Be Wrong.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones: Back at School

"Oh hey! How are you..." Julian hesitated. "Wait, are you new here?"

Kate stopped, turned, looked at Julian with quiet deliberation. "We've been in school together since third grade. You spent most of fifth and sixth grade trying out charms to trip me, make me stutter, undo my bra, or take my voice. Or, you stole my books. Last year in Geometry we swapped tests for grading, and when I handed yours back you put an acne curse on me because I pointed out that you'd done half the problems wrong. Why are you even talking to me?"

Then she put a hand over her mouth. She couldn't believe that she'd just said that. She'd only barely even articulated it to herself; she certainly hadn't readied any kind of rehearsed speech on the off chance that one of her tormentors suddenly and unwisely decided to treat her like a human being.

"I'm sorry," said Julian, stepping back. "I didn't mean... It's just, you've..."

Kate stared at him, genuinely puzzled.

"You're an initiate," he said. "I thought you belonged to one of the Families."

Julian was a Dismore, part of a sprawling semi-aristocratic family that featured a number of remarkable sorcerers, and a great many lesser talents. The bully's arrogance didn't just come from being born to power; his family also had wealth and connections to ensure that the consequences of his behavior were never too severe. Saint Ann's was supposed to be an egalitarian school, where the brightest students would learn everything they could regardless of their background, but sorceries were still the closely-guarded secrets of the various High Families. They weren't taught in schools, and knowing them still set someone like Julian apart. So this was just some new prank, some odd and juvenile attempt to make her think that somehow things had changed.

"You know that's not true," Kate said evenly. "I'm not a name. I don't belong to a Family. I'm just one of those people you step on, on your way up. Why are you even talking to me? Don't you have better things to do with your time?" The anger felt good, cleansing and righteous, and she stepped past him and walked on to her first class.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

DnD & Boys, New campaign 2: Travel is Murder

Last weekend, the boys started their first adventure in the new campaign. I will note for the record that the boys are twelve and eight years old, so we're good for about an hour before Secondborn's attention span runs out. But, as it turns out, that's a fine length of play for a Sunday morning.

I began by reading them the introduction, then had them explain why their characters had decided to accept Lord Ardivil's offer.

Lithos, Firstborn's human paladin, signed up to gain experience and for the greater glory of his order. He's there to protect people and make sure things get done right.

Legacil, Secondborn's elvish druid, wants to explore this strange new place and see if there are any forgotten people still living there.

Nistril, my half-elf rogue, is looking to escape his life of crime, so the the opportunity to earn pay as a professional explorer intrigued him.

In addition to those three, the initial expedition includes Lord Ardivil himself, the expedition leader Victoria, and three drivers -- one for each wagon. Lord Ardivil is only a minor noble; he's actually better known as a scholar, but he has enough money and backing to put the expedition together. He plans to write fascinating historical monographs on his discoveries, and possibly found a museum. Victoria is trained as a fighter, but her primary job is to keep the caravan organized: make sure the wagons are properly loaded and in good repair, oversee the drivers, keep track of food and supplies, and generally handle the logistics.

The expedition follows the trade road towards the inland city of Dravish for the first two days, then takes a turn-off onto a clay road that heads back into the hills -- a route mostly used by loggers and the occasional hunter or trapper. They are camped for the night when a group of brigands appears and demands the horses and wagons.

The group of bad guys consist of three warriors (stats), plus a human wizard and a halfling sorcerer (both quick-generated here).

As the drivers try to take cover behind the wagons, the paladin stands up and charges forward, putting himself in front of everybody else. That takes care of the surprise round. We roll for initiative, and (not terribly surprising, end up with the following sequence: Nistril, Lithos, Evil Wizard, Legacil and his wolf, brigand warriors, and Evil Halfling Sorcerer. The half-elf rogue goes first, and darts away from the fire to disappear behind one of the wagons. The paladin finishes moving in and attacks, felling one of the warriors with a mighty blow. The Evil Wizard casts Magic Missile, and does some damage to the paladin. The druid promptly drops Entangle on the brigands, rather effectively holding them in place, while his wolf races up and rips out the throat of a second warrior. The remaining warrior tries to free himself from the grasses, vines, and branches wrapping around him, but fails. Finally, the halfling sorcerer decides against trying to cast a spell and throws Alchemist's Fire instead, singing the wolf.

The rogue comes around the side of the wagon, and throws a dart at the halfling sorcerer. It hits, but doesn't kill him. The wizard is too far back for the paladin to get to him, so he steps into the Entangle spell (and makes his save, so he can still move) and cuts down the remaining warrior instead. The wizard finds that he's already used up his best spell, so he casts Frost Ray at the paladin... which hurts a bit, but not enough to make the paladin do anything except look at him like, "Really, dude?" (The wizard, as a free action, responds with, "Uh oh.") The druid moves forward and readies his sling, but doesn't have a chance to attack. The halfling sorcerer decides that they're in real trouble and tries to cast a spell, but he's thoroughly entangled at this point and fails his concentration check.

The rogue throws another dart and finishes off the halfling sorcerer. The druid decides that it's time to dismiss his Entangle, and stops the effect. The wizard promptly throws his arms up and yells, "I surrender!"

"Bring him to me," commands Lord Ardivil.

So the characters promptly marches the wizard over the aristocrat. "This seems an odd place for brigands," he observes. "This isn't a trade route, and there aren't any towns nearby."

The wizard promptly explains that they were hired to stop the caravan, steal the wagons, and leave Lord Ardivil stranded. The rest of the group didn't matter; they could be killed or spared as the brigands preferred.

So who hired them? A tall, lean man, respectably dressed and wearing a mask. He had a particular way of moving his hands when he talked. He hadn't given a name.

Lord Ardivil nodded anyway. "Benthis," he said. "I'd bet money on it. He's a steward for Lord Hallorand. My friends, it seems we have a rival."

...And on that dramatic note we promptly stopped the game and sent everybody off to fidget elsewhere. Because there was definitely fidgeting going on at the DnD table.

Overall, though, I'm really pleased. Secondborn likes his character -- the druid was a really good choice for him -- and I think Firstborn will make a surprisingly good paladin. We have a basic plot and an opening event with the promise of more conflict, and as long as we keep the sessions short I think I can even keep up with running the game. Hooray!