Getting old

Jul. 27th, 2017 06:47 am
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[personal profile] altivo
One of the things about getting older is that other people get older too. Most of us notice our friends and relatives aging without quite seeing the same thing happening to ourselves unless serious health issues arise.

While I've been pretty fortunate in that respect, I've now survived the loss of nearly all my older relatives. My family was never all that large, but grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, a number of cousins and an older sibling have all passed away, leaving me the oldest survivor of my immediate family. Oddly, I still don't feel "old" in spite of having retired from daily work and being able to take advantage of the occasional "senior discount."

However, it gets closer to home when personal friends are affected. A good friend for many years now, who attended the same university I did (though we had not yet met) and has been fairly close to my husband and me for as long as we've been together (35 years!) has been seriously ill with histoplasmosis. That's a systemic infection by a parasitic fungus if I understand it correctly. It's typically acquired from bat or bird droppings and not very common. Difficult to diagnose and with complex symptoms, the disease can be life-threatening if untreated. He was not diagnosed early, and eventually reached a state of emergency before getting a correct diagnosis. Fortunately, that came just in time and treatment is succeeding, but he has been hospitalized for many weeks and is only now recovering his ability to walk, eat, and perform the tasks of daily life. He is only a couple of years older than I am, and has always been a very active outdoors individual. This is sobering and a bit frightening.

Meanwhile, husband Gary's younger brother has been hospitalized for over two months due to major heart issues. He has had two major heart attacks in the past, and has become so weak that they put him on the waiting list for a heart transplant. This week he received an LVAD, a heart-assist mechanism, in a six hour surgical procedure. His doctors hope this will keep him going until a replacement heart becomes available. He is five or six years younger than I am.

My own younger brother has had both knees and a hip replaced, and has also had back surgery and major heart issues more than once but seems to be continuing a pretty normal life. Fortunately he is married to a very skilled and wise master nurse who can spot issues early and take appropriate action.

So far I've had no big problems and everything seems to be under control. But I begin to wonder if the proverbial sword of Damocles is up there waiting to fall on me.

Three Things

Jul. 24th, 2017 10:13 pm
the_gneech: (Default)
[personal profile] the_gneech
Did a lot of fretting today and agonizing over the status of the Sky Pirates book. No conclusions. The answer I want is "one of the agents I sent it to wanted it," but that didn't happen, so I have to figure out what the next step really should be.

Three Good Things for Today


  • Got the basic poses finished for Blacktigr's commission

  • Finished the "Windswept Sandbox Full of Giants" recap posts

  • Had some Ben & Jerry's

  • Bonus Good Thing: Had some nice kitty cuddles.


Three Goals for Tomorrow


  • Finish Blacktigr commish

  • Pencils for SJ page 12

  • Work on "By Elves Abandoned"/"Fortress of Tears" setting


Gnite world, and have an awesome tomorrow.

-The Gneech
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[personal profile] the_gneech
Harold of Acholt worries about his father, the Thane
Harold of Acholt worries about his father, the Thane

When you prep for the players to zig, they always zag. Continuing from part six...

We're finally caught up to the most recent game session! With game world firmly built out and chock-a-block with adventure hooks and sidequests, a firm campaign direction ("Escort Xerlo to the Eye of the All-Father"), and brain-eating enthusiasm infinitely better than the floundering avoidance I started with, I was excited for the characters to head into Rohan Hestelland. It was a four-day hike from Tyvalich to Hierandal, the capital of the realm, which was summarized in a paragraph because it mostly consisted of staring at grass for hours on end.

The first order of business on arriving in Hierandal was looking up Piotr Zymorven to ask him about his father's sword. They found him in a tavern... )

Well my dear readers, reskinned wyverns are still CR 6. A party of six 5th-level PCs and their CR 7 stone giant ally piledrived Svartjaw so fast that Lord Alden and his son didn't even get a chance to draw their swords. Lord Alden was quite upset by this apparent anticlimax to what he had expected to be an epic last hunt that would be sung of by the bards and so on... until Rina pointed out that the tracks they'd been following had a very distinctive tread missing three toes on one foot– and that the monster they had killed did not.

Svartjaw, it seemed, was not the only one of his kind.

Furthermore, examination of the bear revealed that like the displacer beasts in the previous session, Svartjaw was also wearing a collar with a token on it, in this case an emblem of Nerull the Reaper, a dark god of death and murder from eastern lands. There was still hunting to be done before dawn. The session ended with Lord Alden giving the order to mount up to continue the hunt, darkness and the forest be damned.

And with that, the campaign summary is up to date! The next session will begin with the PCs attempting to find Svartjaw's lair and confront the source of its evil. Will Lord Alden survive his last hunt? Time alone can tell.

-The Gneech
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[personal profile] austin_dern

I'll poke back in to Michigan's Adventure right after pointing out what you've overlooked from my humor blog the past week. RSS feed mention et cetera.

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Outer bunny worried she'll come out looking silly when I finally caption this.


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Panoramic image of the main bulk of Michigan's Adventure as seen from the station of the Zach's Zoomer roller coaster, one of the park's three wooden coasters.


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Space tearing open and letting untold terrors break through and fall into the lagoon at Michigan's Adventure.


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Panoramic view of Michigan's Adventure around the lagoon, which Cedar Fair built for the park. The roller coaster on the left, Thunderhawk, was moved from Geauga Lake outside Cleveland when Cedar Fair closed that. The wooden coaster to its right is Wolverine Wildcat, a near-clone of Knoebel's Phoenix, which is one of the all-time greatest roller coasters. (Wolverine Wildcat is braked a little too much to be all-time great.)


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View of marshy lands and, in the distance, Shivering Timbers, the main (mile-long) wooden roller coaster. This is as seen from the train ride that's the only way to get along the west side of the lagoon; the park is otherwise arranged as a big C shape, and you can't walk a loop around the rides


Trivia: Railroad charters in 19th Century Maine commonly included the explicit purpose of being ``for the protection of the Northeastern frontier''. Source: The Story Of American Railroads, Stuart H Holbrook.

Currently Reading: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: Complete Collection, Volume 1, Editor Victor Gorelick. I'm not actually sure this is the best person to credit the compilation for, but there's a lot of credit given on the early pages and I'm not sure who actually masterminded the project.

PS: Why Stuff Can Orbit, Part 13: To Close A Loop, another piece of my orbital-mechanics puzzle.

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[personal profile] austin_dern

We finally took the time to bring our new pet rabbit, Columbo, outside. We'd taken Stephen out several times and he seemed to like sitting around in the portable wire cage, eating grass and dandelions and myrtle and scaring off all the squirrels from the yard. But we hadn't had the chance to take Columbo out yet and wondered what he would make of the outside world. That we finally re-found the harness encouraged us to take him out.

First step: would he put up with the harness around his chest? Some rabbits won't tolerate even this, and in that case we'd have to move the wire cage out. But, no, he was perfectly compliant as we snapped the harness around and that's made me belatedly remember that his shelter's folks said he was often taken on display for events. He either has the sort of temperament that doesn't mind harnesses or he's been trained to accept them. Second step: would he tolerate having a leash attached? And yes, turns out he does. Many rabbits, Stephen among them, don't know what to make of that, especially if they try hopping out of range and get tugged back by a mysterious force. Columbo had no trouble with this. It helps that he tends to lope, carefully, in an unfamiliar location, rather than try to run; it's easy to keep up with him.

Ah, but what does he think of the outside? And that seemed to be ... he could take or leave it. He did some prowling around, but was uninterested in eating anything. The grass before him? No. Dandelion or plantain leaves? Thanks, he's aware of their work. The rose bushes? He might poke around them, but otherwise leave them alone. He did want to get underneath some shrubs beside the house, and he wanted to explore down to the neighbors' yard, just as Stephen had. But he wasn't interested in tasting any of the world around. Nor in binkying or doing anything too expressive.

Still, this in hindsight ought not have surprised us. He's a more reserved rabbit, and more quietly investigative than Stephen was. He also seems more suspicious; at least, he's prone to distrusting things on first impression. I had quipped that he dislikes doing anything for the first time, much like me. That would extend to even the wonders of eating fresh, growing plants too. We've since had the chance to give him more time outside, on a live lawn, and he warmed up considerably to the experience. So while the day out might have technically been a disappointment, it was one that set him up for better days afterwards.

Trivia: Insurance premiums for newsreel cameramen on hazardous assignments, around 1938, were something like $15 per day and up to $6,000 per year for ten thousand dollars coverage. Cameramen also had a group-insurance plan, paid by their companies, for about $4,000 coverage per person. Source: The American Newsreel, 1911 - 1967, Raymond Fielding.

Currently Reading: The Story Of Story Book Land, Tina Skinner.

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[personal profile] austin_dern

So during the Rollapalooza tournament there was this long, steady, deep rumbling. Since the tournament was in a bowling alley this was not particularly surprising. Except it seemed like a pretty long rumbling for a bowling alley that wasn't actually all that busy at the moment. A quick check out during some down time revealed yeah, it was thunder. A lot of thunder, and a lot of rain.

When I say ``a lot of rain'' please understand: I mean more rain than you're thinking of. This was too much rain to say it was raining cats and dogs. This was a rain so intense that I could point to it and tell [profile] bunny_hugger that that was what the monsoons in Singapore were like. It was a heavy enough rain we couldn't see the cars in the parking lot, and that from the front door. Helping the absolute curtain of rain was that the overhang in front of the building gathered and dropped water in sheets at the edge of the patio.

As a vast, mind-boggling amount of rain this inspired cheer. Laughter. Gratitude that we weren't driving in it. BIL, a high school teacher and organizer of multiple tournaments in his basement, led some of the kids in quick races out into the rain and back in again. Some of the adults too. I didn't join. The bowling alley was air-conditioned enough that I didn't want to tromp around inside in wet clothes.

The amazing thing for how intense the rain was is how long it went on. It would eventually drop down to a moderate rain, but that took an hour-plus. That would give us time to not make finals and to eventually decide to head home. It was rainy, sure, but I'm not a timid driver.

I got to be timid, when the rain picked up again and approached, at least, the intensity of that initial front. It's harrowing to be on the Interstate and need to slow to about thirty miles an hour, hazard signals flashing because there's just no visibility. That we got past without difficulty and then realized what was waiting for us near Lansing.

The interstates, being, well, interstates in-between cities and with plenty of grass to absorb the water handled the rain tolerably well. The surface streets in town? Not so much. There were inches of rain on the roads we needed to get to our actual home. We tried to think of the route that kept us to the most major roads, and the ones with the fewest potholes, and even then had to swerve around some standing lakes that threatened to sink my low-riding Scion tC.

The last road we couldn't avoid, what with our living on it. I just had to plunge ahead and trust that the car wouldn't stall out or have anything else permanently bad happen to it. And, for a wonder, our block with all the potholes was no particular trouble, a relief after a couple blocks of unavoidable ponds and waves of the car splashing into it. No harm done.

So I thought, anyway. The next time I took the car out I heard a scraping, some of the time. This proved to be the shield underneath the engine, which had gotten pulled half loose and would scrape on many inclines. At the dealership they judged that some of the mounting points had gotten ripped off, surely by the car trying to get through flooded streets. There was no replacing the mounting points without replacing the front bumper. But they could (and did) push the shield back up, trusting that the remaining bolts and the lip of the bumper would keep it safe, at least until the next time I had to drive through a reemergent Lake Algonquin. Shall see.

Trivia: A force of about a hundred US Marines remained in Nicaragua from the end of the civil war in 1912 until 1925 and the formation of a coalition government between conservative President Carlos Solórzano and liberal Vice-President Bautista Sacaso. Shortly after the Marines left General Emiliano Chamorro Vargas and Adolfo Díaz launched a coup driving the liberals from office and, by January, Solórzano too. Source: America's Wars, Alan Axelrod.

Currently Reading: The Story Of Story Book Land, Tina Skinner.

PS: There's Still Time To Ask For Things For The Mathematics A To Z, a reminder.

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[personal profile] austin_dern

My strategy for Richmond Rollapalooza was to put up one score on each table, then look at the standings, and then play whatever my lowest-ranked table was, trusting that eventually I'd have a breakthrough game and get at least high enough to qualify. This is not a customized strategy; it's basically what I use for every tournament with this qualifying format. It's hard to think of an alternate sensible one, except maybe for playing the game you're most confident, for whatever reason, you're likely to have a breakthrough on. Or skipping a game you know has got you licked. I followed the process well, especially since I found I could use the bowling alley's Wi-Fi on my iPod. What never came was my breakthrough game, though.

I had some successes, grinding my way up slowly, but I never had the breakout game on anything that I needed. Looking over the statistics I don't seem to have broken the top ten on any game, Classics or Main. In Classics --- again, my traditional strength --- I don't even come close, finishing six spaces and twenty points out of qualifying for the B Division. In the Main tournament I fare better, failing to qualify for the B Division, but only by two points. Conceivably, another fifteen minutes to play might have got me at least into the B Division. Another half-hour and a couple breakthrough games and I might have launched into the bottom of A Division.

[profile] bunny_hugger had a worse time. She finished below me in Classics. In Main, she finished one point above me, tied for the last place in B Division. The tiebreaker game? FunHouse. This was one of the games mentioned repeatedly in the tournament's advertising, and was surely meant to lure us over. It's both our favorite games. It hasn't been treating her well today; she hasn't even broken ten million points. For a game set on tournament-level hard that's not awful, but it hadn't even got her into tenth place in qualifying. Still, it is the game she likes above all others. She ... puts up a lousy tiebreaker game, something like three million points. Her competition has two even worse balls, and there's some slender cause for hope. At least, I hope. She doesn't. She's justified in this. She watches him squeeze out a multiball and take the last slot in the finals.

We try not to act too heartbroken and maybe everybody distracted by being in finals is too distracted to notice. Among other things, there was an awesome thunderstorm rolling in, one that deserves its own entry because it got all kinds of crazypants. And we putter around a little, playing some of the games that aren't in the finals for either tournament. It's hard: while there are some games free, most are reserved. And they're tempting ones too, like Surf 'n Safari, a waterpark-themed game from Data East; or Spanish Eyes, with a compellingly bizarre backglass that apparently came from an art student happening to be carrying his portfolio near the Williams offices when a guy ``with a thin moustache'' and having a cigarette asked, ``Hey ... you an artist?''. Ah, the 70s.

After a while of consoling ourselves --- we ended up playing a round of Game of Thrones with someone who's apparently a regular at Flint contests and whom we didn't know --- and hearing that the (wedding?) MWS was at was running a little bit longer yet, we gave in for the night and went home. The Betrayal game we'd brought would end up unused after all.

Trivia: On the 25th of July, 1945, Jewish representatives from camps across Western Germany issued a proclamation demanding entry to Palestine. They did so from the Munich beer hall where Hitler staged his 1923 coup attempt. Source: Year Zero: A History of 1945, Ian Buruma.

Currently Reading: The Story Of Story Book Land, Tina Skinner.

Miracles can happen if you do

Jul. 24th, 2017 12:10 am
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[personal profile] austin_dern

My mathematics blog had what counts as a sleepy week, because I am getting ready for a new A To Z project (featuring art by [personal profile] thomaskdye, who's open for commissions) and I need to gather my strength for it. But freshly published there anyway the past week have been:

Also, you know what's going on in Alley Oop? Would you believe it still involves the mind-control ray gun? Now you do. With that content aggregated let's get back to Michigan's Adventure and closing day of last year.

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A barrel of fun at Michigan's Adventure's petting zoo!


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That llama posing for the cover to his acoustic album.


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Talks between [profile] bunny_hugger and a pen full of ducks and fluffy chickens continued into the night.


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Actually, [profile] bunny_hugger and the goat parted on good terms and would be happy to help each other with projects should some deserving cause present itself.


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Bunny sinking beneath the waves of bunniness in a pile of bunnies in bunny bunny bun rabbit bunny floof twitch nosewiggle.


Trivia: Joel Schumaker wrote the screenplay adapting The Wiz to the movies. Source: A Brief Guide To Oz: 75 Years Going Over The Rainbow, Paul Simpson.

Currently Reading: The Story Of Story Book Land Tina Skinner.

Passersby

Jul. 22nd, 2017 11:36 pm
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[personal profile] joshuwain
I wrote a story, today, from start-to-finish in two hours. It started merely with an image in my mind's eye of a giant creature, in a nighttime metropolis, walking quietly through the streets as a normal being, below, looked up in shock and awe.

I'll look back at it, tomorrow, and see if it's any good.

Maybe I'll edit it, too.

Yours,
Sylvan
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[personal profile] austin_dern

Oh, darling, happy Casino Pier anniversary!


Another of June's events: Richfield Rollapalooza. This was a pinball tournament in a Flint bowling alley and thank you, let's take your crack as read. The event run by AND, was a rare-for-us payout tournament in which most-or-all of the entry fees would go back to the people who made finals. MWS, who lives near there, told us we'd do well to go: we'd almost surely qualify for finals and hey, there'd be an interesting selection of games. The latter was true. The former are famous last words. Indeed, MWS's first moment of frustration great enough to make him proclaim he was quitting pinball forever came after a tournament he went to on the promise that he'd surely qualify for one of the payouts.

We set out a little late. MWS had suggested we might visit his house and play Betrayal at the House on the Hill if we got out of the tournament early and he got back from the wedding(?) taking him away most of the day. We forgot it the first time we set out, and had to backtrack, losing maybe fifteen minutes of qualifying time. I argued we wouldn't need them anyway, because when has the last-minute qualifying game ever been that important? These, too, were famous last words. Note that I lost out of the Meijer State Games from fall of 2015 by one last-minute game.

As promised, though, it was some good banks of games. Half were 'Classics', electromechanical or solid-state tables. Half were 'modern', late solid-state games or modern dot-matrix-display era tables. We could qualify for either. The process: up until the appointed hour, play one of the tables. Submit your highest score. You get points for how many people your highest score beats. The sum over five (or whatever) of those determines your rank in classics or finals. Top 16 go to the A Division finals; next eight who aren't division-restricted go to the B Division finals. The division restriction is to keep some top player from slumming and taking an easy B Division win. The slight twist this time: they didn't have enough people and networked devices to have scorekeepers come over and verify your scores. You just took a picture of a score you wanted to enter and brought it to the table. So I have a partial log in photos of my progress for the day, as recorded in score tables. Oh, there'd also be a $25 prize awarded to whoever put in the highest score on a table, regardless of whether they made finals or not.

I stepped up to the Classics bank, my traditional relative strength, and put a quarter in to Bobby Orr's Power Play, a late 70s game I'd had some success with in a Flint tournament a few months back, and proceeded to put up a score so embarrassingly bad I didn't want it recorded. Not an auspicious start.

At the tournament was AJG, one of the state's best players and probably the number-one seed for the state championship for February 2018. He's a precision player. He plays a game of Party Zone that is so boring it is compelling. One repeatable shot on this game is to shoot up the left ramp, for an award that starts at 100,000 points and increases by 100,000 until ... I don't know that there is an upper limit. It restarts at 100,000 the next ball. The ball comes down another ramp on the left side and if you give the machine a tap at just the right spot the ball can bounce from the left flipper to the right, in position to shoot this up again. It's a safe payout, if you can make the shot reliably. Most people can't repeat a shot that many times, for lack of control or maybe just boredom. Not AJG. He keeps shooting it, again and again. He gets it to scoring over twenty million points per shot, and keeps on going. It's hypnotic. He comes out with a score of something like 930,000,000, against a field that mostly puts up something like 20 to 50 million points total. My best score was just over 20 million. [profile] bunny_hugger, having worked out secrets to the table, came in at 55 million. It was astounding.

Trivia: More than 12,000 children were tried for smuggling at the salt court in Laval in 1773. This includes only children caught with fifteen pounds or more of contraband salt. Source: The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, Graham Robb.

Currently Reading: Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle, Steven Vogel.

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We'd take the final leg of the park, working our way back to front, to close out the night. This let us get back to some old favorite rides like Corkscrew, and also to discover the disappointing news that Iron Dragon had shut for the evening without us. We did get our ride on Cedar Downs, the quite fast carousel with the horses that move forward and back in their rows. That we rode in anticipation of future excitement, though. We had heard how Rye Playland, which runs their counterpart to this ride even faster than Cedar Point does, had finally got its front-and-back mechanism working after years of the mounts being locked in place. We weren't thinking wholly of what we'd do next, though. We were paying attention to what we were doing.

With the disappointment that we couldn't ride Iron Dragon we went off instead to Blue Streak, the remaining wooden roller coaster and Cedar Point's oldest roller coaster. Always a reliable old friend and ready for us to get a front-seat ride again. And delightful with its chaser lights going in the evening twilight, too.

Adjacent to Blue Streak is ValRavn, last year's new roller coaster and something we'd only gotten a couple rides on because the queues were too long for us. That evening, the queue was estimated at a half-hour and we figured that was the best offer we'd get for a long while. And it was a good offer. The wait wasn't even the promised half-hour. This might be because the ride operators were challenging the riders to get settled in their seats and locked in so they could dispatch in under a minute, and there's a monitor that shows who is locked in correctly and how long the train's been in the station. We failed once again to do whatever it took to get a front-seat ride, but we carried on courageously, riding that roller coaster in the evening and taking in great views of the illuminated park in the night.

We'd hoped to close out the night on the Midway Carousel, but something weird happened. They closed the queue, and before the official closing hour of 10:00. In the past Cedar Point has normally closed the queue at the park's closing time and let whoever was in line ride. It's a common amusement park operation scheme to close the queue early, in the hopes of getting the last riders done close to the park closing time, but this was never their practice. Has that changed? If so how will it mutate the closing hours of a park night? Or did maybe the ride operator just set her watch wrong and thought it was just past 10:00.

Anyway, this diverted us to the Sweet Shop instead, with the hope that we might get a couple pieces of fudge before that shop closed. And this time, hey, what do you know but we could? They have a bunch of varieties of fudge there, pricey but incredibly worth it. [profile] bunny_hugger carefully rationed it out and we were eating impossibly good pieces for a week to come. Long enough that we discovered our local hipster farmer's market, the one we use to get vegetables for our pet rabbit, has the same flavors. This is a world full of surprises.

We drove home, safe and sound, listening to podcasts and getting in around 3 am, in time to sleep to a decent hour the next day.

Trivia: Nickel was first extracted from a reddish-brown ore named kupfernickel, devil's copper (or, St Nicholas's copper); it was useful for nothing except coloring glass green. Source: Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide To The Elements, John Emsley.

Currently Reading: Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle, Steven Vogel.

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[personal profile] the_gneech
The Grand, Unified Map of Gneech's Campaign World

Then, the world changed. Continuing from part five...

I was going to finish the recaps with the discussion of last weekend's session here, but I got to talking about the map (as one does) and realized the last recap would have to wait for one more post.

Once I realized that Storm King's Thunder was a "build your own campaign" framework and not a straightforward adventure module and embraced it, that meant that I had to build out the world in order to make room for it all. I went through the module from front to back and placed every location important to the campaign somewhere, and then set myself to the task of filling in as much of the blank space around that as possible.

I discovered that the Silver Coast was waaaaay too small... )

It took several days and the project pretty much ate my brain the whole time, but now that it's done I'm really happy with the result. This is a game world that I can see going pretty well forever, with enough detail and history to feel "lived in" while still having plenty of room for expansion as needed (I tried to leave myself lots of open spots). It's not suitable for publication or any such thing– it's got chunks of Greyhawk, chunks of Faerûn, bits of Lovecraft's Dreamlands, and of course the Middle-earth nations of Rohan, Arnor, and Angmar with the serial numbers shaved off. But it is a cool place for me and six friends to visit every Saturday night.

It also taught me a lot about world-building in general, which is valuable for creating original works. I will probably use a very similar process to build out Calypsitania and the Fortress of Tears world for writing novels in next.

Next time, part seven, in which we finally catch up to the campaign!

-The Gneech

You've got to trust in summer

Jul. 21st, 2017 12:10 am
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[personal profile] austin_dern

What's there to show for another week of progress humor blogging and comic-strip explaining? The chance to tell you all about this:

Next, finally: my pictures from the closing day of Michigan Adventure's season last year, in early September, which is how far behind I'm running. Maybe I should pick up the pace some.

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Michigan Adventure's Mad Mouse roller coaster on a much more normal day, although at a pretty nice angle that makes it look as though it has a steep drop off the lift hill. (The ride is nearly horizontal at that point. The fun of a Mad Mouse ride is lots of sharp turns.)


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The front entrance of Michigan's Adventure as seen on its closing day for 2016. Cedar Point's front entrance got a major --- and fantastic --- renovation a few years ago when the GateKeeper roller coaster was put in, and we got to wondering if and when Michigan's Adventure would get a similar modification.


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And this is why an update to the entrance seemed likely: detail of the Snoopy figure on the Michigan's Adventure sign. That, must say, doesn't really look good. We somehow haven't been to the park yet this season so can't say if it's been replaced or repainted.


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And then to reinforce the thought of maybe new signs being a good idea: detail of the sign showing the same sort of wear and minor rust damage.


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The eternal frustration. Michigan's Adventure had put in a coffee stand, but we never saw it open all 2016. Peeking inside we could see the evidence of a stand maybe being in working order, but it was never a spot we could get coffee or any other hot drinks.


Trivia: When James A Pollack, of the Viking 1 imaging team, told a press conference on the 21st of July, 1976, that the Martian sky was pink and the wrongly-color-corrected images of the previous day were misleading, he got (friendly) boos and hisses. Source: On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958 - 1978, Edward Clinton Ezell, Linda Neuman Ezell. NASA SP-4212.

Currently Reading: Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle, Steven Vogel.

PS: Why Stuff Can Orbit, Part 12: How Fast Is An Orbit? and a scary bit of mathematics we dub approximations.

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This Round's On Lem, from the Pathfinder Wiki
This Round's on Lem, from the Pathfinder Wiki


He spews lightning. He crashes into everything he gets near and knocks trees over onto himself. And yet he's still kinda adorable. Continuing from part four...

The first town on the road north was Tyvalich, a major trading town at the mouth of a pass up into the richest silver mountains in the world. Before they got there, however, the party was confronted by Felgolos, the Flying Misfortune, a young-ish adult bronze dragon who came swooping in, blasted a line of lightning between the party and the road, and proclaimed that he was the protector of the north and they would go no further. And then had to duck from the lightning-blasted tree that almost fell on his head.

Seeing Xerlo in their company had apparently... )

They headed back to town to collect their reward, stopping briefly to aid and comfort the same band of Calladganger hunters they had met before, who had been tracking a herd of aurochs through the mountains and gotten the snot pounded out of them by a bunch of hill giants. Still convinced that Nikki is some kind of nature spirit, they turned down his offer of "eagle" (actually bloodhawk) meat, because eagles were sacred to them and this was obviously some kind of spiritual test Nikki was putting them through to make sure they followed the old ways or some such. Nikki informed them that there was a nicely large, vacant Calladganger-style homestead in a box canyon just a ways up the mountain that they could safely camp and recuperate in, as long as they didn't mind the smell of burning dead monster. Their leader promised they would ritually sanctify the house and that anyone who settled there would be named the People of the Squirrel in gratitude for this beneficence.

"Right. You do that."

(For the record, the Calladganger leader is not whimsically eccentric, even if I do refer to him as "Kronk." He's a perfectly normal big dumb amiable lug.)

After a night of rest, it was time for the four day hike to Hierandal, which will come in part five.

-The Gneech

So I booked my seat

Jul. 20th, 2017 12:10 am
austin_dern: Inspired by Krazy Kat, of kourse. (Default)
[personal profile] austin_dern

Cedar Point, like Michigan's Adventure, has a petting zoo. It's larger than the Michigan cousin, understandably, as Cedar Point's quite larger than Michigan's Adventure is. They're provided for by the same animal caretakers, though, and so there were some similarities in the animals there. The Cedar Point zoo is part of the Frontier Trail and purports itself to show something about what the farms of historic northwestern Ohio farming families might have had. It's the sort of light-educational self-promotion that amusement parks have always liked to use and it's a fine idea as long as you don't ask how many mid-19th century Ohio family farms kept emus. But this sort of touch of life is reliably nice, and you can't argue that goats and sheep and chickens and rabbits aren't credible farm animals, even if you can wonder about the particular breeds. The rabbit pen had a couple bunnies who'd worked out where they could flop out so they were near the bottles of cold water (it had been a hot day before the rains came) and be just out of reach for most of the smaller kids. Also where they could pile on each other.

We stopped in at the glasswares shop, and joined the audience for one of the glass-blowing demonstrations just as it started. They were making a glass goldfish, which is one of those things neat to see and done in exactly the right spot that all 90 pictures I took of it are obscured by a column. So it goes. We did also learn that the fearsomely expensive, elaborate glass sea serpent, with multiple arcs of back emerging from the glassy 'water' surface, was still on sale but was now locked in a display case where some well-meaning idiot like me couldn't accidentally break it. No; if we break it, it'll be with deliberate effort now.

As we got farther in back of the park we poked into the other arcade, a small untended one. We knew there wouldn't be pinball there, but what would it hurt to check? There wasn't pinball there, but we did see a redemption-ticket counting machine flashing on its LED screen the mysterious and alarming message, 'tEror'. So, you know, we have that going for us.

The back of the park gave us the chance to see how close we might get to the former Mean Streak, and to see what if anything we could work out about what it's being turned into. Cedar Point still hasn't announced what Vicious Streak will be, although right around our visit they did drop a teaser ad that made an ambiguous suggestion that it might be something plural. This is baffling, but there is probably enough support length in Mean Streak to produce two steel-tracked roller coasters. Converted roller coasters don't tend to be as long as the original wooden ones for reasons that [profile] bunny_hugger knows and I don't.

Anyway there wasn't much specific that could be made out from the accessible areas. We could see what looked like spiral twists added to the taller hills. It's conceivable that some of this might even be a full helix, turning the ride over, but it's so hard to tell what a thin track at that distance is doing, especially with all the visual noise of the wooden supports in the way. I did spot that the ride photo booth still has the Mean Streak logo on it, which probably reflects the ride photo booth somehow not being a top priority for the reconstruction work.

When we had explored this, and gotten a ride on Maverick --- still a top-draw roller coaster, and with a reasonable queue thanks surely to the rain --- we had the choice to walk back the way we'd come or to complete the loop around the point. I chose the loop around the point and this is why we were too late to ride Iron Dragon.

It did let us get on Gemini, though, and the racing coaster's always good fun. We also hoped to get on the blue train, the rarer of the rides lately, but we got there just as they were taking the train out of service. Because for some reason they'd rather run two trains on a single track instead of a single train on two tracks of the racing coaster. It cuts the number of ride operators needed, but is otherwise a dumb choice, especially for light-crowd days. It did mean we got to ``race'' an empty Blue train, a fun novelty that raises the question of why in previous Halloweekend nights we've been stopped just before the station, waiting for enough people to get on the other train because they couldn't send that out empty?

But this let us continue in a nice little arc, in the back of Cedar Point, to the Monster ride where once again we failed to get a really good spin going. We also got to ride Magnum XL-200, right up front because I forgot what that can do to your knees. This gave us the chance to see the big renovation done to the hotel gate, the entrance we use second-most, and changed beyond recognition by the park's ongoing rebuilding of the water park and building of a new tower for the Hotel Breakers where they'd torn down a tower of the Hotel Breakers like two years ago. We had guessed rightly that this entrance would be renovated in our final visit to the park last year. It looks sharp, as anyone would have expected. It also obliterated Magnum's old ride photo station. The replacement's all right, but lacks the obvious period-dating of the new station.

Still, it does mean that now three of Cedar Point's four entrances are 2010s-era Art Deco Revival style, with roller coasters that arch above them. This would raise questions about what they're going to do with the last entrance, the Oceana Gate, last renovated ... sometime after 1870 and quite possibly remembered to exist at some point. I haven't got any ideas. We've never used the gate ourselves.

Trivia: After landing on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin needed about an hour and a half of reconfiguring switches and setting systems so that in case of emergency the Lunar Module could manage a quick, orderly takeoff from the surface. Source: Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of NASA's Lunar Explorations, William David Compton. NASA SP-4214

Currently Reading: Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle, Steven Vogel.

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[personal profile] the_gneech
Drow Assassin by thatDMan
Drow Assassin by thatDMan


You knew a prophecy had to show up eventually. Continuing from part three...

Upon arriving back in town, the party headed for Lord-Protector Shendrel's offices only to find an unruly mob of farmers complaining about Xerlo, the stone giant, who apparently defended an outlying farm from attack by throwing the farmer's silo at a bunch of hill giants who were stealing all the livestock they could get ahold of while chanting "Food for Guh! Food for Guh!" They said they'd have a talk to him.

While they were in town, [personal profile] inkblitz headed off to the Golden Compass Society for Exploration, Acquisition, and Monster Dispatch (a.k.a. the Adventurers Guild), while Sirfox headed for the Brotherhood of the Spider (a.k.a. the Thieves Guild). [profile] jamesbarrett went off to the temple and the garrison to boost morale, aid the refugees of the volcano still clogging up the town, and presumably chop wood or something paladiney like that.

Investigation at the Adventurers Guild revealed... )

They were not expecting the dragon attack that comes in part five...

-The Gneech

PS: Quit creeping on that drow, guildmaster! Don't you know that's Obsidian's mother?

I had a break for a week

Jul. 19th, 2017 12:10 am
austin_dern: Inspired by Krazy Kat, of kourse. (Default)
[personal profile] austin_dern

Our first trip to Cedar Point for the season began with the snooze alarm. We agreed we were just too tired to get up as early as we had figured, and traded an hour of time at the park for being better-rested while there. That was probably a wise decision. What makes it not clearly a wise decision is what happened as we got there: rain. We had wanted to get to either Michigan's Adventure or to Cedar Point, and the weather forecast for Michigan's Adventure put it at a higher chance of rain for more of the day. So we got to Cedar Point just as a downpour started.

This wasn't all bad news. We have been to Cedar Point often enough, and expect to return again enough, that there's little we feel we must ride there, and after the soaking cold horror of Roller Coaster Appreciation Night, when almost nothing was open, a rainy day in June can't look bad. We got cheeses on a stick and some soda --- using our new free-soda-when-we-want privileges on our season passes for the first (and so far, only) time --- and sat in the Casino, hoping to wait out the storm, or at least to find some pinball machines in decently working condition. The state of things was pretty dire. Travel Time, which spent all last year broken as far as we could tell, was till out. Abracadabra was also down. The giant yet boring Hercules tables were both working and taking slightly delighted looks from people and quashing them, at least. We also tried some of the older shooting-gallery or mechanical contraptions, such as this strength-testing machine, and found they were in similarly scattershot shape. It's great that these machines are there, and a testament to how well they were built that after decades of wear they're as usable as they are. But it's hard not to think that they could be better still, especially given how much effort the park has put into balancing their attractions and making for a better-rounded experience lately.

As the rain gradually let up and the rides started to turn again we got to the Kiddie Kingdom carousel for our first ride of the year if you forget the Six Flags Over Texas trip back in March. Which is easy to do since it was so early and so weird a thing to do it hardly seems real. Sparrows seemed to have made homes for themselves among the carousel's top. I'm hoping they get through the season without undue harm coming to them or to the ride. Then we could start to walk through the park and take in lots of scenes of crews squeegee-ing dry the amusement park.

Our first and lasting disappointment for the day is that Iron Dragon, the suspended roller coaster, wasn't running. It's an old favorite, the first really grown-up roller coaster that [profile] bunny_hugger was able to ride. And it's being subject to a Virtual Reality ride makeover this season. We were curious, certainly, and wanted to try the experience. But the ride was closed when we first approached, and then we learned it would close for an hour in the very early evening to switch over to Virtual Reality operations. We moved on and by the time we got back, it was near the end of the night and the ride was closed because the nearby Luminosity open-air performance show needs the roller coaster to close for some reason. While we'll get back to the park --- I pointed out we could, literally, drive back the next day if we wanted --- it's frustrating to miss the thing we wanted to see, especially since it was my pretty much arbitrary choice at one point about which path to go down that set us on course to miss Iron Dragon altogether.

So our first roller coaster of the year at Cedar Point would be Rougarou, surely the least-loved of the park's attractions. It used to be Mantis, a stand-up roller coaster, and was converted to a normal sitting-style ride a couple years ago in the hopes of drawing more people to it. There was a surprisingly long line for it, possibly caused by most other attractions being down. It's a fair ride, pretty gentle considering all the looping and banking it does. That's surely a reflection of its old status as a standing coaster: if people are standing in harness for the ride it can't jump about too drastically. But it's still not a completely pleasant ride, because the over-the-shoulder restraints have these hard plastic shells around the head. The latter half of the ride is best spent leaning far forward and anticipating curves, lest your ears get boxed repeatedly. It's disappointing they fixed one nasty flaw of the ride and let the other stand.

Trivia: The National League granted the Brooklyn Dodgers permission to move to Los Angeles in 1957, on the proviso that Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley convince the Horace Stoneham to relocate the New York Giants also. The Giants would eventually announce their relocation first. Source: Bottom Of The Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball From Itself, Michael Shapiro.

Currently Reading: Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle, Steven Vogel.

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[personal profile] the_gneech
Ghost paladin possessing a troll SMASH!

Kolstaag Albrek never knew what hit him. Continuing from part two...

It has always been true, but it is especially true of 5E that rolling low on initiative kills bosses dead. Between being blasted by the party's wizard and cleric, sneak-attacked by the rogue, and having a ghost-possessed troll flip a desk on him then pick him up and go all TROLL SMASH, Kolstaag Albrek didn't even get a spell off before the party had wrought their revenge. The pair of drow he was meeting with decided that was their cue to call it a day, and the wizard's vicious gargoyle pets were quickly dispatched. The only other occupant of the house was a cranky old coot named Xzyyzx, the wizard's housekeeper, whose opinion was that the wizard's death meant it was his house now.

The party were not inclined to debate the legalities of property ownership in Three Roads, but instead reclaimed their gear ([profile] jamesbarrett was quite jazzed to discover that Togar was the owner of a suit of adamantine plate), read Kolstaag's mail, and headed back to town. Kolstaag, it turned out, was working for a drow by the name of Nezannar, which triggered deja vu in players from my previous Silver Coast game.

(Since that game is actually set 50 years in the future relative to the current one, the events of that game are history repeating itself, even though it got played first. Wibbly-wobbly campaigney-wampaigney.)

They also fetched Xerlo the stone giant out of the basement. He was quite surprised they were no longer in their cells, but on being informed that his former employer was dead, he adopted a very c'est la vie attitude on the subject. The party invited him to come along back to Three Roads with them, with the plan of setting him up as an 18' tall Lurch-like guardian angel.

Lord-Protector Shendrel of Three Roads was a bit taken aback by having the party come back two days later from the opposite direction the fire giants had gone, with a troll and stone giant in tow. However, when shown the evidence of Kolstaag's shenanigans, took them at their word. (Having a paladin in the party really does wonders for the group's trustability.) She installed Xerlo in a barn outside of town, but took pains to point out that the job she'd hired them for– make sure the fire giants don't come back– was still not done.

So they set off north, tracking the fire giants. Even two days cold, the trail was fairly easy to follow for most of the way. They ran into some Calladganger hunters from the Clan of the Eagle, who seemed to think that Nikki was a nature spirit, but eventually found a cave complex populated by orcs herding axe beaks.

Their attempt at scouting the caves was thwarted when Rina botched a Stealth check. The orcs thought she was just a random wood elf in the forest and were going to bully her for fun, but the rest of the party came swooping in and disabused them of that notion quickly. A general alarm was raised and it turned into a huge furball with orcs, maddened axe beaks, fire giants, and their fire elemental pets/familiars/adds/whatever they were.

In 30+ years of playing Dungeons & Dragons, I would have never guessed I would see opposed Animal Handling checks be a factor in combat. Achievement unlocked.

Hathas, his time "bonding" with the troll seeming to rub off on him, waded into the fray with more bloodlust than one generally expects from a paladin, even a fallen one. The fire elementals damaged the troll so badly that Hathas abandoned it and joined the fray in ghost form instead. While the troll retreated to a cave in the back where it could munch on dead orc and regenerate, Hathas attempted to terrorize a fire giant (not unlike the librarian in the prologue of Ghostbusters). The fire giant was not terrorized... but members of the party were. Nice jorb, Hathas.

The odd thing about ghosts in D&D is... they have hit points. They resist nonmagical damage, but in order to interact with the world they must manifest on the physical plane. Fire giants do an average of 28 points of damage with a single hit and their attack bonus alone equals a ghost's AC. The fire giant made short work of Hathas, much to everyone's surprise (including Hathas).

The fight was a tough one, but the party rose to the challenge. Brother Drang finally got to use the call lightning he'd been itching for, and Togar entered a new phase of his career by being the tankiest ever but not getting one-punched in the first round. When the dust settled, the party was battered and bruised but victorious. They retrieved the giants' rod of the vonindid, a kind of dowsing rod for adamantine golem parts, and also discovered that these giants had found the vonindid's entire left hand. They rather hastily buried this where it was, as it was way too big to haul anywhere, and headed back to town.

The troll survived.

It turned out there were developments with their new stone giant friend, which will be revealed in part four!

-The Gneech
austin_dern: Inspired by Krazy Kat, of kourse. (Default)
[personal profile] austin_dern

A bit over a year ago a new thing emerged in Grand Rapids: the pinball selfie league. The idea was you play qualifying games anytime during the month-long open time, taking pictures of your score (self not actually required) to prove in case there's some doubt. Then in the finals the score's used to seed your position for some kind of playoff. It's a lie to call this a league, really; it's more of a tournament with a long, open qualifying period. For a while these were popping up everywhere, quick ways to get International Flipper Pinball Association points, and we feared they'd drive out the real proper pinball leagues that meet at set times and put together groups of people to play one another.

Probably our fear was overblown: the one attempt at Marvin's Marvellous Mechanical Museum faded after a single month. The Grand Rapids one hung around a little while, although in ever-declining health. The owner of the bar where it ran was wary of letting it advertise, particularly, even though a poster on the six games of the month would probably have got at least some casual players in. [profile] bunny_hugger and I played a couple times, then withdrew lest we encourage selfie leagues at the cost of actual leagues. When that threat passed we started to play again, at least to put in scores, although it was iffy whether we'd attend the finals. Hurting here might be that the finals would be the first Monday of the month, nearly always two days before the first Wednesday of the month and the regular league's meeting, and it's a hassle getting out to Grand Rapids twice in a week.

So when the final Grand Rapids selfie league got announced we were kind of surprised, since we didn't realize that league runner ADM was so ready to give up on it, but also not surprised, since we'd passed the end of the month and heard nothing about what the new games would be. Finally he set the last Selfie Finals, for a Sunday. Counting ADM, five people showed up.

He recused himself, allowing us to make the tournament a five-game series of four players: me, [profile] bunny_hugger, MWS, and KEC. And somehow I was top seed in this: I'd get to pick two games for the set. I figured to try one that was treating me well in practice --- not always a wise procedure --- and put up a Creature from the Black Lagoon that beat everyone. Not crushed them: MWS had a decent rally going and I expected he was going to restart his multiball and beat me. But no, I got lucky.

MWS picked the second game, I think The Shadow, also turned out surprisingly well. That's a rough game, one prone to disastrous or outstanding scores, and this time I had that rare outstanding score.

The Pyramid Scheme, the bar where the Grand Rapids Pinball League takes place and the Selfie League took place, is across the street from another hipster bar named Stella's, and that place has two pinball games. One of them is FunHouse, always tantalizingly close but off-limits for league play. ADM gave [profile] bunny_hugger permission to step outside the Pyramid Scheme for her pick of the night. And so we did. Considering that FunHouse is a game that every competitive pinball player knows inside-out, and that three of the state's top 16 players were in this group of four, you would think at least one of us would have a blowout game. Not so. We all had mediocre games; I won by getting one jackpot in multiball and getting to eight million points, which ordinarily MWS could have crushed and [profile] bunny_hugger could fairly reliably beat. I was having an amazingly lucky string.

KEC's pick. She's got some favorite games, as do we all. Hers was The Walking Dead, a game [profile] bunny_hugger can always put up a decent twenty million points on. Not this day. Nobody has a really good game, but I have the best of the lot. Four wins out of five is better than I remember ever doing and [profile] bunny_hugger tells me that I've locked up first place for the tournament.

So we came around to my second pick and the last game and I chose something that's just fun, Batman 66. And I'm playing with that incredible ease that comes from knowing I don't have to do anything but enjoy it. I still crush it, though, getting one more first-place finish and completing my first-ever perfect night of anything, anywhere. I finish the last Grand Rapids Selfie League with a first-place finish, and only the second time I've finished anything in first place.

We searched out for dinner afterwards --- our sandwich place closes early Sundays --- and went to a different hipster bar than usual with ADM. The main point I remember discussing besides various bits of gossip is the bit of courtesy that says a man walks on the street-side of a sidewalk, sheltering the woman he's with, a bit of behavior [profile] bunny_hugger had never noticed I compulsively do. This has helped her understand why when we turn corners I will so often vanish behind her a bit to reappear out of her blind spot.

And so did this Grand Rapids Selfie League close its history.

Trivia: The English East India Company director's letter to its governors in India for October 1718 contains the note ``Enclosed we send you 2 declarations of war with Spain'' at the top of the 44th paragraph. This comes after a lengthy protest of the drinks bill for the public table at Fort St George. (``If you must have liquors at such prices [ 9 Pagodas, about 30 rupees, a dozen for Burton ale ], pray gratify your pallats at your own, not our, expence''. Source: The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company, John Keay. Not answered in the text: two declarations of war? I'm not sure if they just mean two copies of the declaration?

Currently Reading: Introvert Doodles, Maureen 'Marzi' Wilson. So, anyone else tired of Introvert Pride as an Internet talking-point?

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