Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Blogging Challenge: Binge-Watching

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!

Today's prompt is "TV shows I binge-watched" and man, that's been a while.

I can list off shows that you'd think I might binge-watch: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica... but I haven't. In fact, it's been a while since I've felt like I could commit the time and attention to binge-watch anything, and that's in spite of truly excellent recommendations that have been thrown my way. 

I think the closest I got was the first season of Lucifer, a while back. I've the first season of Rick & Morty, but that was definitely staggered rather than binged. Way back when Firstborn was first born, Beautiful Wife and I binge-watched a lot of Buffy and Stargate. I've put on things that I watched before, like Blackadder or Upstart Crow, to keep me company whilst sorting laundry. Other than that...

I really don't. My schedule just isn't built that way. 

But that's not to say that I don't see the appeal, so leave a link to your answers in the comments if you're so inclined!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Monday, March 29, 2021

Gone, gone, gone

So I'm out this week, and my mental calendar is off by a day, so I didn't think to put anything up here earlier. But yeah, basically I;m blowing a week of vacation time to work on Shadow Academy and clean the house. And possibly put together another playlist to listen to in the car.

But first, I'm going to recover from a rather hideous case of sunburn. You'd think I'd know better at my age, but there was a hammock and a nap and, well, turns out hammocks are much more dangerous than I previously suspected. I mean, it's also that sunburn is something that I essentially never had to worry about in my youth and apparently I still haven't 100% processed the implications of the fact that I work in IT now?

ANYWAY, have some classic music:

Friday, March 26, 2021

Writing Progress on Shadow Academy

I got a bit more writing done last night, a fact which borders on the miraculous considering how tired everybody is right now. It's not much -- a single page of opening scene, not like the one I thought I was starting with -- but it's there and if I can just get it nailed down then I can move on to the scenes I really want to write. In fact, I think that may be part of the difficulty I have in trying to write opening scenes: I'm impatient! I want to get on to the scenes that made me want to write this book in the first place! Let's go, let's go! 

Huh. How did I deal with that when I was younger, and writing for hours every evening? I remember that I wrote in kind of the same way: there was always some scene I particularly wanted to get to, or some particular character or setting that I wanted to explore, but... I feel like maybe that actually helped me focus, rather than distracting me? 

All right. Maybe I can give myself a little pep-talk when I go back to it. Something like, "Okay, if you're going to get to those pieces you're going to have to make this one work, so let's buckle down and introduce the things we need to introduce here." What the hell, it might work. 

And in the meantime (i.e. while I'm stuck at work today) I need to figure out what the local customs for greeting a stranger at your gate would look like. So if you've got any thoughts on interesting approaches there, throw them into the comments.

Meanwhile, here's some music from Nightwish:

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Put on the blame on what, again?

So after last week I've found myself re-playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for reasons I'm not entirely ready to explore. (Suffice to say that it's a game that encourages you to act horribly, which is definitely one way to blow off steam...) But it's a little different playing it now than it was when I first played it back in the day...

GTA:VC was published in 2002, but it's set during the 1980s (in a fictional city in Florida, but that's neither here nor there). In-game activities include stealing a great many cars, racing, chasing, shooting, and generally creating all sorts of mayhem. (I just finished starting a gang war last night.) All of this has the ultimate goal of taking over the entire criminal underworld, and especially the drug trade, in Vice City.

So this game, published in 2002, is set in the eighties; and as a result, the radio stations more or less all play 80s music (along with satirical fake-80s advertisements and talk radio programs). And the New Wave station -- remember New Wave? -- includes "Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles: 

See? I really am going somewhere with this thought. 

Anyway, the song is lamenting the way that television, and especially brave new world of music videos, had put a number of traditional singers out of jobs. The basic idea (which was not unfounded) that musical talent was no longer enough to succeed; singers had to look good as well, and that was an artistic tragedy arising, in no small part, from the development of new technologies. 

And this is the part that's been poking at me, because it plays a bit differently here in 2021 than it did back in 2002 -- or back in 1980, for that matter. When the song first came out, it was a timely lament of a current issue. In 2002, it sounded more nostalgic and perhaps even ironic: "Remember when MTV used to play music videos?" 

But, well, here in 2021, "put all the blame on VCR" isn't just amusingly dated; technology has made another complete shift and VCRs are now also a thing of the past -- and the DVDs and Blu-Rays that replaced them are rapidly headed that way as well. 

So I guess what I'm trying to express here is the uncomfortable realization that this song about good things that have become outdated by the passage of time has now, itself, become outdated by the passage of time.

TL/DR: I feel old!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Blogging Challenge: Last Meal

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!

Today's prompt is "what my last meal would be" and honestly? If all goes as I hope, my death will come suddenly and as a complete surprise, so it'll just be "I dunno, whatever I ate before it happened."

But all right, if I know it's coming and I get to order something specific for the occasion, it's probably going to be a weird mix of things that hits some of my favorites: spicy stir fry and sushi with a side of bacon plus french fries and a cheeseburger. (Or thereabouts.) There's no way I'd be able to finish all that, but that's not the point, is it? Just one last taste of everything I really enjoy. 

Wow, that got depressing fast. 

So all right, last meal, rules are I can order anything and they have to deliver it? 

I'll take a potion of invulnerability, please.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

EvilParty: Naval-gazing

We begin the battle, ramming through a couple of smaller ships from the side, then smashing into a larger ship from behind and coming to a stop midway down the hull. Jenny rips a guy apart with the claws, and the rest of us are preserving our spells. The plan is basically to rip our way out the side and let the boat sink. Which... works just fine, as it happens.

The naval battle has ground into a close-quarters, pitched fight in towards the shore; we turn and charge the biggest of the King's Navy, smashing in from the rear and stopping about a third of the way up the hull. Interestingly, this puts us directly in the middle of a bunch of prisoners.

One of them is nobly dressed and now also rather damaged. This being DnD, and they being high-level, they're all tough enough to survive being run over by a giant mechanical crab.

Chuck open the cloaca and drops out of the Crab. Hatch pops out behind him and drops a fireball on the troops/sailors in front of the crab. A bunch of swashbucklers die, but not all of them; there are also some barbarians, who take some damage.

Then Jenny drops out, and moves over to the swashbucklers and just... slaughters them. She finishes by attacking one of the barbarians... but then two of the remaining swashbucklers charge her and die horribly as she intercepts them, allowing her to attack the barbarian again. There are no swashbucklers left. It's... Jenny-cide.

The barbarian rages and attacks, doing enough damage for Jenny to at least notice. The other barbarians move in, trying to swarm her, and run right into her spiked chain instead. Durest moves out and taps one of the barbarians on the shoulder, inflicting wounds and killing him.

Chuck turns back to the prisoners.

Elf Guard #1: "Stay back!"

Chuck: "It's okay, we're here to rescue you!"

These aren't true elves, but they're  super-high pedigree elves.

Chuck: "You see, we killed all those guys. We can take one with us."

Noblewoman: "Fools! Soriah Saltfisher is on the deck! She's one of the most powerful druids in the King's Navy!"

Chuck: "That's why we're going to scuttle the ship."

Hatch fires of a trio of scorching rays at the remaining barbarians, taking down two of the three. Jenny takes the last one down.

A ranger appears on the stairs further up the hold, and puts some arrows in Jenny; then the druid comes down and hits us with Flame Strike. Durest saves, but Jenny goes down; Durest immediately reaches down and heals her. Chuck tosses a fireball at the newcomers.

Ramekin follows up by dropping grease under their feet, leaving both the newcomers flat-footed. Hatch moves forward and off to one side, angling to take out the druid, and casts Disintegrate.

The druid... she survives it. Hatch follows up with quickened scorching rays to finish her off.

Jenny moves up to attack the Wood Elf ranger. He attempts to flee, and Jenny attacks him. She hits him, but he manages to climb up and out onto the deck.

Chuck: "See, we took care of the druid. Time to go! Let's run."

Elves: "We're with you! Which way is out of here?"

Chuck: "Up the ladder and out. Let us scout it first, though."

Hatch heads to the stairs and flies up to look out of the top. Jenny comes up the ladder behind him and moves into the archers and wipes out everyone in reach. The ranger has just thrown himself over the side of the boat and onto his alligator companion, and it is swimming away as fast as possible.

Durest comes up the ladder and proceeds to the forecastle; the two guys up there see him and jump off the boat. Chuck climbs out a hole and up the hull and onto the poop deck, scaring off the guys up there.

Hatch makes some room for himself and drops a fireball on another nearby enemy boat. It's one of the smaller ones, and the decktop devastation is... total.

Jenny moves on to the remainder of the archers. There are still four warriors on the deck; they all try to attack Hatch. Hatch, however, took some damage on the way up, and he's protected by Displacement.

Durest fires off the catapult, hitting the ranger but failing to kill him. Chuck decides to ignore him, and drops a Fireball on another nearby ship. A magical sphere protects the central section of the deck, unfortunately.

Hatch ascends higher into the air. (He has a semi-permanent Fly spell on him, and is currently about thirty feet above the deck.)

Jenny, annoyed that she has nobody to kill, heads back down to the Crab. The Elf Noble tries to tell her about some device that's preventing teleportation, but Jenny says that makes no sense and heads into the crab. Durest, not knowing how to reset the catapult, turns and heads belowdeck as well.

Noblewoman: "You! Dwarf! Do you have any brains?"

Durest: "Aye, lass! I keep them in a jar under the stairs!"

Noblewoman: "So there's something preventing reinforcements from teleporting in. Some device, here on the ship!"

Durest, smiling: "...Is it fragile?"

The boat that Chuck tried to fireball is now definitely looking our way, but he's too far away most targeted spell attacks. They throw Fireballs back at him -- four of them. Then the Solari casts Disintegrate on him. Chuck assumes Gaseous form and retreats towards the lower deck. Hatch follows him down.

Durest locates the room with the device and starts beating on the cage around it. Hatch unlatches the cage, and Durest smashes the device, which promptly explodes and hurts him a lot. Hatch, who is also in the room, is hurt less.

So, our vampire is back in his coffin and the rest of us are in reasonable shape. It'll be an hour before Chuck is solid again. But, we can still break some boats from below...

Next time.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Music: Hey Ho

 Gin Wigmore:

Yeah, this past week was a beating. A good beating, in a lot of ways, but still a beating. I got a teeny bit of writing done -- though I'm too tired to tell if it's any good or not, so I'm just going to leave it alone and go on to the next bit. I can always revise later. 

Tonight should be DnD, and then immediate sleep; but with any luck we'll get settled back in and I can go back to my How To Get Writing Done strategy in the evenings.

Here's hoping, anyway.

(If you're wondering, the music is something I found back in January and marked to put up here; it has nothing particular to say about my current mood or the general state of affairs.)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Full Page!

I got a full first page written on the Shadow Academy project! I am ridiculously pleased with myself, though in the face of this week I suppose it's more of an achievement than my brain keeps trying to tell me it is. It probably needs to be cleaned up and it definitely needs more pages, but it's writing and I got it done! 


Unfortunately, the demands of Family Time are getting larger (not smaller) as the week goes along -- meaning that Beautiful Wife is probably going to launch back into teaching next week with only a small fraction of the preparations she needed to make. I'm doing what I can to smooth the way for her, but there are still only so many hours in the day. And the boys are doing school this week on waaaaaaay less sleep than they're used to (and probably a lot less than they really need), but they seem to be handling it. 

It's really next week that I expect everyone to break down. 

Anyway, enough of that. I got writing done! If I keep this up, I'll have a chapter done! If I keep that up, I'll have a book done! Go, book!

Book! Book! Book!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Ugh... Yep, still going...

Right, yes, Thursday. Definitely. How is this not Friday? Okay... fed boys. Fed me. Forget to medicate the younger boy until just now -- no wonder he keeps popping out of his room to way "Hi!" between classes. Donated blood, drinking tea...

Ugh. This week is going to do me in. It's nothing horrible, it's just a lot going on. 

Slept like a rock last night -- weird dreams, where I was pulling things together for an underwater scientific exploration expedition that would last all semester. (Remind me of when I was last in college? Or better yet, don't? How do I still have dreams about getting ready for college classes, is my point, when college was half my life ago?) Apparently I pack very lightly. 

Also apparently I'm deeply aware of just how fragile the ecosystem might be in an underwater cavern with its own atmosphere, plants, and animals. Because maybe we shouldn't just hang out there, breathing the air and putting a strain on the system. The professors agreed. 

Anyway, apparently it's Thursday. Which seems deeply odd, because when I've put this much effort into the week so far I kind of feel like it should be Friday. But it isn't. And the idea of doing this over again tomorrow seems overwhelming. 

Right, back to work. Plenty to do, plenty to catch up on, plenty to get ready for. Onward and upward. Nothing but good times ahead.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Challenge: My Theme Song

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!

Today's prompt is "my theme song" and boy, I hope y'all know what you're in for. 'Cause I haven't really decided on just one, so here's a selection of likely possibilities.

First off, I did some pretty awesome things yesterday, so the obvious choice is, well...

But, you know, not every day goes well. And some days I feel like I need a completely different kind of theme song. Like, say, this one...

This is, more seriously, one that I come back to fairly regularly. A protest song, of sorts:

And finally, every theme song really should have that personal touch. This one isn't mine, but it remains one of my favorite examples... especially if you were ever a fan of the show:

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Evil!Party: Test-Driving Our New Artifact

I think I'd planned to proofread this before it went up this morning. However... it's Tuesday, I feel like I've been run over by a bicycle (if not a truck), and... Yeah. Ha. This is what I've got. 

We're taking it for granted that we actually have all the keys at this point; now we should be able to rearrange the maze so that the Apparatus of Kwalish can reach the exit. Of course, I've probably worked out the wrong exit... {NARRATOR VOICE: He had, in fact, worked out the wrong exit.}

Still, we start turning keys and shifting chunks of maze around until we have a direct bridge from our prize to the northeast exit.

This thing is full of interesting devices.

There are three dispensers:
Provide elixir of swimming 6x/day
Potion of water breathing 2x/day
Yummy Black sludge: Iron Body 1/week

There's also a teeny little manufactory for a temporary raft.

There are two helms of Underwater Action, one on each seat. Attacking with the claws uses attack bonus + dex; it needs to be facing the thing it attacks.

Bob the Frost Giant skeleton won't fit; we break him into bones and put him away in the bag of holding; Durest will have to bring him back later.

Durest starts trying to drive, with more success than you might expect. Jenny takes the weapons & utility seat. We pilot it over to the northwest room; the door unseals as we approach. Sitting on an altar in the room beyond is a cube; it looks magic. When we grab it, it shrinks down to a smaller cube, becoming a cube of force.


We rearrange the maze and try the southwest room, which also opens for us; inside is a Rod of Lordly Might. Jenny takes the Rod of Lordly Might ( and we turn the cube of force over to Hatch.

We rearrange the maze to make a path to the entrance, and walk the Apparatus to the entrance, which had sealed behind us. It opens for us, and the apparatus takes us on autopilot through into a sort of terrifying water-slide that eventually dumps us out into the ocean in front of a barnacle-covered statue; there are a couple of pillars behind it, and we've clearly come out of the back end of the temple.

We come past a shipwreck and encounter a dire shark; Durest keeps us on course and Jenny attacks the things with our crab-ship's claws. She's quite successful, and rips into the thing. The shark turns and tries to counter-attack, mostly dulling its teeth on our hull.

There are, of course, two other sharks; and they're all going after us.

Chuck sees a dire shark through the porthole and tries a Shatter spell, creating an underwater sonic attack.

Jenny attacks with the claws again, ripping the shark up some more. Durest notices that the micro-bugs have come out to help repair the Apparatus. "Ne'er though I'd be glad to see those things!" He keeps the ship aimed at the first dire shark.

Chuck tries Shatter again, but this time the shark manages to thrash away and avoid part of the impact. Jenny continues turning the giant shark into sashimi; Durest keeps it oriented. Chuck continues his Shatter spells, damaging his shark again. Jenny kills the first shark, and Durest turns us to face the others. That takes Chuck out of sight, but Jenny does more damage with claws; the sharks try to attack, but prove much less effective this time.

Jenny is *really* enjoying this; this is her favorite kind of puzzle.  Chuck goes out the Cloaca hatch. Jenny kills the second shark, and the last one swings around to try to bite Chuck. This is not going to end well for the dire shark. It chomps down and grabs him in its jaws.

Chuck casts Lightning Bolt.

Durest turns the crab-ship, and Jenny rips it open, freeing Chuck.

The sunken ship had spilled some treasure; 10,000 GP in gold, gems, and art objects. There's also a treasure chest; Chuck floats it over  to the cloaca-port. Hatch checks it over for traps and then opens it; inside we find a Lesser Rod of Metamagic: Enlarge Spell.

We move a little further along and Chuck sticks his head out, then immediately pulls it back in. "Oh no oh no oh no kill it kill it kill it!"

Tentacles slam into the craft. The kraken just tears into us as Durest swings around, slapping the hell out of the craft.

"Ramikin! Keep us facing it!"

Durest heads for the back and swigs a potion of Water Breathing. Chuck reforms and becomes large, and immediately gets eaten. Durest quaffs a potion of swimming and jumps out.

Jenny, meanwhile, is really getting into the mechanical claws. Ramekin has taken over the pilot's chair and is shouting naval gibberish.

Chuck swims into its gullet and attempts to drain energy from the Kraken.

The Kraken smacks Durest with a tentacle and grabs him. Its other tentacle smacks the ship, and tries to bite it.

Durest reaches down and touches the tentacle whilst casting Harm, and... *really* harms the tentacle. It essentially dissolves.

Chuck claws at the inside of the kraken with his vampireness, and inflicts a couple of negative levels on the Kraken (and restores himself in the process). The kraken releases a truly epic cloud of ink and starts  swimming away, taking Chuck with it. Durest swims back into the ship and calls for Ramekin to give chase.

Ramekin sends us forward and catches up with the thing. Chuck drains it again as the chase continues. Ramekin continues accelerating, and rams the kraken from behind.

Chuck is still sucking away the Kraken's life-force; it's still fleeing. We move up on it again, and Jenny reaches out with the claws and rips it open, finally killing it.

Chuck converts the thing to a vampire, and takes control of it; he now has a vampire kraken. We pull out from under the ledge, and into the open ocean. He turns the vampire kraken loose, since it's much slower than the crab-ship; and we head back to the bay and our employers.

Time passes, and we arrive in Welfort in time to find that a human strikeforce has come to try and retake the city from the water. There are three flagships, each with their own Solari. The Lord Hierophant has commandeered a couple of pirate ships, but they're badly outnumbered.

Monday, March 15, 2021

I need things to stop happening.

I need things to stop happening. Like...

We had the Snowpacoplypse. 

Then we had two weeks of school and trying to get everybody back on schedule. Then we had Spring Break, in the week immediately before Daylight Savings Time starts and we lose an hour of sleep, because that's how you know your children are going to bright and alert and back on their school schedule. 

This, as Beautiful Wife reminds me, after the boys came home for Spring Break last year and never went back. Now we've come full circle. 

And just as the boys are going back to school -- online, but still -- we have their aunt and cousins in town to visit the family. The cousins are really excited to see each other, and would love to spend all their time together... but of course the boys are in school this week, which I'm sure means that the family visiting time is going to take place in the evenings, which I'm equally sure is going to mean that sensible, regular bedtimes are rapidly on their way to the place of long-lost myths and pipe-dream aspirations.*

And meanwhile, Beautiful Wife is starting into her Spring Break, and I of course am still on my regular work hours with several major projects that require my full attention, ha-ha-ha.

So I need things to stop happening. I don't mean I need everything to come to a stop. I just need several weeks -- or preferably months -- during which we can get everybody onto a regular schedule and get back into the sort of rhythm that lets us catch up and keep up with things. I need to get back to where we're managing the day-to-day things... or else I need to be able to drop the day-to-day things completely, and concentrate on steering through the chaos instead. 

Instead, we're stuck trying to do both. And as happy as I am to have the boys on Spring Break or family in town, I really wish it wasn't all happening right now. I wish this wasn't my circus, and these weren't my monkeys. But some days -- some weeks, some months, some goddam years -- are like that, and the only way out is through.

There are good things happening too. Indeed, much of this is, in various ways, a collection of Good Things. It's just taken all together, it's a lot.

* Since we are still in the middle of a goddam global pandemic, I feel compelled to note that this is not a thoughtless bit of selfish social whimsy. There are compelling reasons to have the girls and their mother visit right now, even though it means flying them in. While I haven't discussed it here on the Blog o' Doom, those reasons are yet another situation that's keeping everything chaotic for the foreseeable future. That said, it will be darkly fucking hilarious if this effort manages to get us all infected with COVID.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

My Week

 So, what kind of week am I having while the boys are on Spring Break and I'm desperately trying to catch up on a half-dozen Big Important Things at work?

Wellllll... This evening (well, by the time this posts, yesterday evening) I was poking around on Amazon and saw a suggestion for a book. Humorous fantasy, looked like fun. Author's name looked familiar, but I couldn't place it. Was it one of the one with problematic behaviors that I shouldn't support? Or was it...?

Y'all, it's the author of the book that I'm currently reading. I just spaced it. 

In my defense, I spent most of the day trying to get a couple of hours to do the reading on One Big Thing so I could see what we need to do next on a major system upgrade... and failing. Instead, I dealt with a hacked website and another bit of troubleshooting on an issue from last week. Between the two of them, those issues ate up every single bit of time I had outside of a weekly afternoon meeting. Do the reading? Ha!

I am so done with this week. I really just want to crawl into a blanket fort and read and watch movies and maybe eat popcorn. I want it all the more acutely because I have these big projects, no energy or focus to work on them with, and no shortage of interruptions. And, of course trying to keep the boys on schedule is an uphill battle, because hey -- they're on vacation again! Right after being trapped in the house with no school for the Snowpacolypse! So we're basically never going to get them back in the rhythm of daily schooling! Or if we do, it'll be just in time for summer break!

And when their schedule is off, mine stands no chance of being on. I'm trying to get enough sleep and such, but... it's a lot. So... I'm going to take a brief shower, then try to do at least some writing on the Shadow Academy project, and then I'm going to bed. Wish me (retroactive) luck!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Challenge: Gifts for Readers

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!

Today's prompt is "best non-book gifts for readers" which ought to be interesting. 

My list is, of course, perfectly reasonable: 

  1. Books. No, wait, can't use that one.
  2. Bookshelves. There are never enough of these.
  3. Bookends, preferably shaped like gargoyles. There are never enough of these, either. 
  4. Childcare/baby sitting. Gives the reader more time to read. Or write, for that matter.
  5. Possibly a maid or maidservice, to dust the bookshelves. Surprising how often this comes up, actually. 
  6. Some sort of time-travel device, so that when they finish a book at four in the morning they can still go back and get a decent night's sleep. Note to readers: just make sure not to pester yourself about how the book turns out while you're trying to sleep after you've finished it.
  7. Tea.
  8. A butler or someone similar, to make sure the reader remembers to eat. 

As you can see, there are plenty of viable non-book gifts that you can give to the reader in your life. Show your love by making it easier for them to read!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

EvilParty: The Whole Room's A Sliding Puzzle

 We're still trapped down in the dungeon of puzzles. We've crossed to another section where an apparently-ancient robot is sitting in a chair surrounded by a swarm of flying keys.

The robot is B1137, "I am one of the First."

Chuck introduces himself as a robotic repairman.

B1137 starts asking us questions about the Clockwork God. The first is simple: what plane does he inhabit? The second is a morality question involving a merchant refusing to share food, and a starving child that steals it.

We fail that one. He repeats the question. "Report the crime!" cries Hatch, not feeling the least bit hypocritical about this.

Next question: "A citizen of Nirvana  creates a gear with 32 teeth, forever. The gear is part of a gearbox. Is this citizen happy?"

Us: It should be content with its role.

Next Question: "If the citizen is able to produce sixty-four tooth gears, and do so better than its fellow-citizen. It addresses the speaker to suggest improvements to the system. What should the Keeper do?"

Hatch: Decomission it.

B1137: "That is correct. Individualism has no place in an orderly society."

Hatch accepts the key and tries it, but while there's some creaking and groaning, nothing moves.

We move over to the tiny robot village full of tiny robot villagers. There is music coming from some of the houses.

One of the robots comes out when Jenny calls: "I am C376216. I make the thirty-two toothed gears."

All right, they have priests and they can teach you the Clockwork God's worship song. Before they will tell us, they need help: a hundred of their citizens accidentally crossed into someone else's territory and now will be decommissioned. They need to take care of this before they do anything else.

Ramekin might be small enough to fit in their houses. We send him in to get sheet music. Ramekin follows the sound of music to one particular building. There are no real entertainment centers, but everyone is really happy despite apparently working all the time.

Ramekin turns invisible and goes into the music building. There's an organist and a priest, both tiny little clockwork guys; the priest is giving a blackboard explanation to the citizens about Kwalish.

Ramekin grabs the sheet music. J867-5309 is appalled by the loss of his music and decommissions himself. Ramekin: "Master, I've got the sheet music!"

Hatch: "Great! Get out of there."

Priest: "We must alert the Keeper to send J8675310 to replace J867-5309 who has self-decommissioned."

Ramekin gets back out. We now have the music; we still need a key.

Jenny, meanwhile, is watching a robot go down the rows of misbehaving robots and ripping the plugs out of the back of their necks. This, evidently, is the Keeper.

...And the Key-per does indeed have the key. He's not real keen on giving it to us, but Jenny scoops him up. The keeper's body is larger than the others, barrel-shaped.

"You must put me down immediately. This does not benefit the Clockwork City."

Jenny: "Come at me, bro."

A little antenna starts flashing on  the guy's head and a Marout appears on the far side of the town. The Kaiju Battle in Clockwork Town is about to begin! Jenny: ""

Hatch begins with an empowered Scorching Ray and makes it past the spell resistance to do a pretty fair amount of damage. The Marout places a Geas on Jenny to put down the keeper and leave this place.

She breaks the Keeper's neck and drops him, and Chuck hits the body with Shatter. Durest drops Chaos on Jenny's weapon, then steps away. The Marout swings at him as he moves away, damaging him and deafening him.

Hatch zaps him again, and the Marout goes down. Jenny moves far enough away to satisfy the geas, then comes back in and starts stomping.

The alarm goes up and another Marout emerges. Jenny grins. Chuck throws a Lightning Bolt at the thing. Durest tries to banish it, but fails because he's deaf. Hatch, on the other hand, blasts him with a bunch of scorching rays and takes him down. One of the little knight-constructs comes through and casts Hold Person on Jenny.

Chuck moves over and tries the key; the alarm does not stop. Durest banishes the construct, and Jenny shakes off the spell and leave the town, heading around the corner towards the mechanical spider. The alarm stops as she clears the town.

Hatch follows. Chuck drops a fireball on the giant mechanical spider, which takes less damage than it might. Durest casts Fly and moves out over the pit; Bob the Skeleton moves to follow Jenny. The spider activates and attacks, hitting Jenny and trying to poison her; she takes strength damage as well as physical damage.

She rages and power attacks. Three hits, solid and precise, but it's made of metal and resistance to damage. Hatch follows up with Scorching Rays, and Chuck follows that with a Fireball. Durest drops a Flame Strike and Bob moves up beside Jenny. It bites Jenny again; she attacks it again, hitting three times and taking it down despite the damage resistance.

The tips of the spider's legs combine to form a key, but using it on the pedestal does not move anything. We move over to a trio of flying centaurs, murder them, and then take their keys; this pedestal appears to require all three.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Thoughts for a Monday

The boys are on Spring Break; Beautiful Wife and I are not. We're alternating days on who's trying to work from home and keep an eye on them, and who will be somewhere else getting meaningful work done. Meanwhile, we have -- I desperately hope -- gotten the last of Secondborn's outstanding work turned in to his teachers. Getting the video of him in costume portraying Nathan Hale off of Beautiful Wife's phone, into a proper file format, back onto Secondborn's school Chromebook, and uploaded to the proper app has taken an hour and a half of my life that I will never get back, but it's done. Speaking (obliquely) of Nathan Hale, I saw a window sticker on a truck a couple of weeks back that just said, "Pro Patria Mori" and since this is the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex I have absolutely no idea if this is some sort of Right-Wing call to arms, or if they were being ironic with a reference to Wilfred Owens. I'd lean towards the pre-1920s un-ironic interpretation, but who knows? Some good news, at least: back on Friday, I managed to get my first shot for the Moderna vaccine ("for COVID19," I add for the benefit of future historians). Pure dumb luck: they have been giving the vaccine out at my workplace and had some extras, so they were going around asking people if they wanted to get vaccinated. I happened to be there, so I was. I've heard varying reports, but for me it was about the same experience as getting a flu shot: my shoulder (where they injected me) got very sore after a couple of hours by was fine a day later; I spent the evening and the next day kind of run-down, groggy, and cranky; but otherwise it was pretty unremarkable. Well, I mean, I woke up thinking about what a great guy Bill Gates is and how I should believe anything he says, and there's this odd mark that seems to be forming on my forehead, but apart from that the side effects were very minimal. Unfortunately -- and partly as a result of that -- no writing got done this weekend. We are, however, gradually catching up on laundry -- and to complete the trifecta of Dying For One's Country topics, I found myself watching Blackadder Goes Forth, which is set in World War I. Dulce et Decorum Est, indeed.

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Mask

 Behold, the Mask. (Not the best picture. It was still drying on a sheet of cardboard when I took this. But this is what he did.)

Well, that was a full day...

So, owing to some minor digestive issues I worked from home yesterday. And I spent most of it trying to troubleshot a weird issue on a test server, where something about the SSL setup seems to be causing parts of the application -- but not all of it! --to fail. 

Except that just before I got on a call to try to troubleshoot that, Secondborn came rushing out of his room to ask if I knew where his mask was. Well, all right: it was time for Art class, so clearly this would be the mask he'd been building for the last two weeks in art. It was... well, for starters it was not in his room. It was not in the living room. It was not in the kitchen, nor the back bedroom. It was, in fact, nowhere to be found. 

So I emailed his art teacher to explain that he really was looking for it and really couldn't find it and had enlisted my help, and that him not working on it was not a failure of motivation but rather a clear case of massive disorganization on our end. Somewhere in there I got in touch with Beautiful Wife, who was pretty sure that it had gotten thrown away when she cleared all the trash out from under his bed. 

Well, okay. I mean, not ideal, since I'd promised the art teacher that one way or another we'd get the project done last night. But we could work with this; we'd just have to redo what he'd done on the mask so far, and then add the next steps. So I went back and finished work. 

After work, I took Secondborn with me on a couple of errands (he wanted to buy some Pokemon cards and we were nearly out of milk) and then came back, ate dinner, and then finally we started on the mask again. Since we were doing it from scratch, I broke out the X-acto knife and did most (but not all) of the cutting. Secondborn sketched out the pieces we needed to cut, and then I went over them with various pieces of spray paint and we glued them in place. 

It went well and we got it done, but that took pretty much everything I had; there was no writing last night. But, well, that's how it goes: sometimes you finish the project, sometimes the project finishes you.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Story That Would

I think I have my opening scene. I haven't tried to write it out yet -- it literally came to me just as I was climbing into bed last night -- but I can see it, and if I can see it then I can usually find the words. Something like...

     Darian Silver stood at the edge of the airfield and wondered if he'd just made another big mistake. On the far side of the field, a massive beast nudged against the smooth stone spire of the only dock, its fins shifting in the air as it adjusted to keep the gondola on its belly level with the upper deck. Waves of color rippled across its flesh, contrasting with the lines of the harness that held the gondola in place. It seemed far too large to be floating in the air. The mandibles at the front of its head were large enough to rip to his house apart, and body was... he thought of old man Winterwood's dry goods shop in the village, but that was too small. He didn't have anything to compare this to.

     It was huge and wonderful and terrifying, and he was going to get into its gondola and let it carry him to the Academy.

     His father, perhaps sensing his mood, asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" 

     Darian managed not to swallow, and said: "I still don't think I have a better choice." 

     His father nodded at that, then reached down and clasped his shoulder. Darian adjusted his pack. He was fourteen years old and leaving home for the first time, and he didn't know whether to be excited or sad or terrified. Apparently, in the face of such uncertainty, his brain had decided to go with all three.

So that, or something very like that, will be the start. The Hero's Journey can bite me; I'm going to skip the Ordinary World and the Call To Adventure, and leap straight to the point where Darian is making a final decision about moving out into the larger world. 

Also? Sleep is good. Sleep is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Challenge: My Greatest Weakness

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. I've had a great deal of fun with it, so naturally I'm continuing it this year. If you'd like to participate, follow that first link for the list of prompts, and then check the main site for the weekly post with links to everyone's responses (and add your own link, if you're so inclined). 

Today's prompt is "my greatest weakness".


Um. Cowardice? Maybe? I mean, I do sometimes wonder if the reason I don't complete writing projects is simple cowardice -- if, more than just having a full-time job and a house with two growing boys, I don't get more writing done because (as various martial artists have also suggested over the years) You have to make it a priority, and I don't out of some sort of fear of failure. 

Except I don't really think that's fair, because I actually do have other priorities and they actually are important, also. And because back when I had less going on, I actually did finish the Great Unpublished Pulp Fantasy Novel and submit it in an actual attempt to get it published; and I have submitted short stories to various places as well, though not so much recently. 

So maybe not cowardice, or at least not something that can be summed up quite so succinctly. 

I definitely fail to read the room sometimes, especially when it comes to office politics, and that's definitely caused some issues here and there. There were several situations where, if I'd been paying attention and realized what was going on at the time, I could have done some things differently and my career would (probably) be further along, or at least paying better. Probably. But I don't know if that's so much a weakness as it is just a combination of undiagnosed ADHD and coming into the job from a nominally-similar job that actually had very different expectations. 

Letting myself get too tired. This one is a particular problem because when I get tired I tend to lean into it and try to keep getting things done anyway, which doesn't work too well and leaves me both more tired and with more things to do, so it quickly becomes a downward spiral until I finally look up, realize that I'm waaaaay more tired even than thought I was -- like, Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery tired -- and collapse. I'm working on this one, but it's definitely a recurring pattern. Of course, now that I've spent a week and half making sure that I get plenty of sleep and like that, I'm weirdly more tired -- or more aware of it -- than I was before. Less focused, certainly. 

So clearly even more rest is in order, here.

I don't know. I don't think any of us are very good at evaluating our own weaknesses; if we could, we'd probably do a better job of compensating for them and then they wouldn't be nearly as much of a weakness. 

(This is one of those prompts that's probably going to get a lot of "um... I'm not sure how to answer this?" responses, along with a number of people coming at it from interestingly different directions, so I'm really looking forward to see what everyone else comes up with. Leave your thoughts -- or a link to your thoughts -- in the comments, if you're so inclined!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Evil!Party: The Shifting Maze

 EvilParty is: 

Jenny: Human Barbarian, Does Not Do Puzzles.
Hatch: Halfling Arcane Trickster, rogue skills and empowered scorching rays.
Ramikin: Imp Familiar, wielder of the Wand of Grease, usually invisible.
Chuck: Human Sorcerer turned Vampire, always up to start something.
Durest: Dwarven Priest and Necromancer, travel and trickery.
Bob: Skeletal Frost Giant, Durest's companion/mount, and smacker of things with the Very Large Axe.

We're thousands of feet underground, navigating through ancient ruins that seem to be one giant set of mechanical puzzles and nasty constructs.

"There's all these dumbass metal bugs floating around, they're like lightning assholes or something. Crystals in cages, too, probably bad shit. Then there's this giant fucking... I don't want to say for sure, but it was a beholder guys. So, like, we're out right? We're done? Job complete." Thus does Chuck explain the next level after scouting ahead.

We make ready, and descend down the water-vator.

There are tiny lightning-bug constructs providing dim light across the massive room. We're standing on a bridge, which seem to form a sort of maze. At various points in the maze there are crystals on pedestals, trapped in metal cages. A beholder is orbiting the nearest one.

Chuck: "Is this your place? I want to bargain. I've been stuck down here a long time."

It doesn't respond.

Chuck. "All right, I see how it is." He leads off with an Empowered Scorching Ray.

That definitely gets it attention.

Jenny charges and lays into it with her chain, connecting solidly. Chuck shifts his position and zaps him again; the Beholder tries Charm Monster on Chuck, but fails; then it tries disintegrate. Chuck is partly dissolved, but doesn't die. It then tries to charm Jenny, fails, and then tries Finger of Death on her. She is injured but not killed; he tries to make her afraid, but that fails, too.

Durest gets petrified (because of course I failed that save). It then tries Inflict light wounds on Chuck, which... heals him, because he's a vampire. The beholder curses colorfully. It tries to put Jenny to sleep, and finally succeeds. It casts Slow on Chuck, and succeeds, then picks him up with Telekinesis and throws him off the edge.

Bob charges and buries his axe in the beholder. Hatch lets loose with empowered Scorching Ray, and basically immolates the thing.

They manage, despite the odds, to restore Durest to mobility.

They stagger forward, and start searching. And Hatch starts rooting around in the beholder corpse and finds a key inside it!

The pedestal has a keyhole. Chuck, looking it over, thinks this is come kind of control console. Hatch searches it for traps. He doesn't find any traps, but the mechanism clearly affects things way down below up. He turns the key, and the chunk of maze that we're standing on moves. A bit of experimentation indicates that the key can be used to move this section back and forth.

We move up to the next pedestal. There's a large safe sitting on a corner next to it. The pedestal is surrounded by metal body parts. Durest attempts to assemble the robot-construct-thing thing, but... well, I mean, it turns out that if you shove the head into place really hard, it'll stay as long as you don't move anything. "Och, Captain, I'm a necromancer -- not an artificer."

Hatch, meanwhile, is looking to break into the giant safe -- it's like 15' tall -- but the dial on the front is huge and high, so he calls Jenny The Barbarian over to help. Bob the Frost Giant skeleton lends a hand, and with Hatch guiding them they turn the dial back and forth. There's a satisfying *click* as the tumblers fall into place, but unfortunately even Bob isn't strong enough to turn the lever -- even with Jenny's considerable help.

Hatch uses Grease on the mechanism to try to loosen it up. Finally, barely, we manage to push the lever up and open the door.

Hanging inside, on a little chain, is another key.

We move to a central platform. There a hollow, metal craft that vaguely resembles a lobster or crab: legs, pincers, portholes, and a door on the bottom that irises closed; there's a button next to it. This is almost certainly the artifact that we were sent to fetch, only it's way too heavy to move.

Hatch presses the button. A voice from the artifact says: "Path not found. Maintaining hibernation."

We move on a bit, and find a pipe organ with a circle of tuning forks beside it. The forks are sensitive; they hum a bit in response to our voices. The organ, however, does not have music on it; doubtless we need to play something, but Chopsticks does not do it. 

We move to the edge of our current area and start dropping spells on the constructs across the way. Jenny is disappointed not to be part of the killing, but we assure the barbarian that she can have the tiny mechanical village to stomp on when we get over to that section of the maze. (Jenny's reply.)

We take out the lesser guardians, but the big one starts dropping spheres of force around us and then teleports into the sphere. Now we're in real trouble, because Jenny -- our heavy hitter -- is outside the sphere, and this large construct is in a position to flatten the squishy spellcasters.

This plan was not as good as it seemed.

It looses chain lightning, injuring all of us, and Durest teleports everbody back out of the sphere. Jenny comes around and Durest aligns her weapon to Chaos. She slaps the smack out of the thing with her spiked chain.

It dies, and we take its key.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Story That Wouldn't

Long, busy weekend that... like, my boss's boss asked me how I was doing, and I had to stop and think about it... for about thirty seconds. Because, I mean, right now I honestly don't know how to answer that. Or I don't know how to answer that honestly. 

We had a week of minimal power and water, with everyone trapped in the house. Then we went straight back to work for another week. The sheer amount of dirty laundry in our house... well, I mean, that was most of my weekend. Everything I did this weekend, I did between washing, drying, and sorting loads of laundry. And dishes; dear ye immortal gods, the dishes. 

Beautiful Wife spent most of yesterday just sort of... collapsed and reading. She has things she needs to be doing for work, but there's some extended family drama that's causing a lot of stress -- and doesn't seem likely to resolve any time soon -- and I think she just needed a day of downtime. So I'm just basically trying to keep everything going and give her some room to recuperate. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly (given all that) last week was not a good week for writing. I tried to switch off the weird-dream, venture-out-of-the-citadel-and-across-the-strange-outside-world story and at least pull together an opening for the "Hogwarts for Monsters" and... I don't know, maybe that was a mistake. I know what I want to set up for, but when I tried to write out the setup it just... wouldn't come. I don't know if it's not ready yet, or if I would have had the same problem with the weird-dream project. Last week was exhausting in that "the crisis is past, but none of us have had a chance to recover" sort of way, so it could be either one. 

Writing takes energy. 

So my current strategy is basically the same as last week: get everybody down to bed, take a few minutes to calm my brain and look over story stuff, and then try to write the sorcery-school-for-monsters story. If that doesn't work, read the last couple of page of the weird-dream project and see if I can pick up from there. If that doesn't work, brush my teeth and go the hell to bed. I just need to remember to stick to the plan, and not stay up hoping things will shake loose when they clearly aren't. 

Also, keep doing laundry.