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2007-06-02 Hex Mapping

I’ve always wanted to produce good-looking old-school black-on-white hex maps for my roleplaying games. But I didn’t want to use Windows.

Update: Now available as a CGI script! You can also link to your maps directly. Check out the Perl sources of the script.

I broke down and wrote a prototype. Behold my awesome SVG powah! :D

The input file is plain text! Behold my awesome ASCII art powah, too!! :D

The output is SVG, which I then convert via EPS to PDF. Check out the PDF result.

I found that the best solution was to convert from SVG to EPS using InkScape, and from EPS to PDF using ps2pdf or the OSX Viewer. In my particular case, I just used the following Makefile:

%.eps: %.svg
	echo Ignore Gdk-CRITICAL and WARNING messages
	/Applications/Inkscape.app/Contents/Resources/bin/inkscape \
	--without-gui --export-area-drawing --export-eps $@ $^

%.pdf: %.eps
	ps2pdf $^ $@

Producing the SVG was the tricky part. I used a little Perl script called old-school-hex.pl.

What next? Add more “tiles”, obviously!

Here’s how to do it. First, produce a SVG file using a single dot as the map. This gives you the empty hex.

echo . | perl old-school-hex.pl > empty.svg

Then fill it with some strokes, simplify them, delete a few extra points on the paths, and save. Open the file in you favorite editor and extract the stuff you added, move it into the script data at the beginning, in the defs element, following the grass example. Add an appropriate character mapping to the %char table and you’re done!

That’s what I’ll do right now.

I’m not yet sure how to add roads and rivers.

I’m already starting to wonder… would it make more sense to have all the hex types in the current directory, and use their filename as the reference, and include them as necessary? :) Maybe if this turns out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Perhaps I should turn this into a CGI script…


Comments on 2007-06-02 Hex Mapping

Very neat!

Reminds me of the Realms generator I created for Fields of Blood. Here's the code for the Realms stuff and this is the hexmap builder.

That was much fun to hack, and my scrappy code might give you a few ideas too :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-03 08:31 UTC

Yikes! “My next challenge is roads, coastlines and rivers.” Sounds familiar…

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-03 08:37 UTC

Unfortunately I moved onto other things after failing to drum up enough support for Fields of Blood in my group. Boo!

Now I really need a good hex mapper, so methinks I’ll go back to this and carry on with it. I liked the look of the maps :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-03 09:05 UTC

Heh. My code has the benefit of producing SVG, which you can scale and print and it still looks good. You could replace the tiles I’ve been using by translating the $im->line stuff with the appropriate elements. I just looked at output Inkscape generated and the SVG spec and was all set.

I’ll have to think of a solution for rivers, roads and frontiers. Or perhaps I should just give up and keep hand-drawing my maps. Yesterday I ended up printing an empty hex map and hand drawing everything else in it. I thought it looked great. I’ll have to scan it in once my players have been through it.

I might as well just stick to hex paper. Hm…

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-03 09:19 UTC

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2007-06-02 Just Say No

Christa wrote about her love/hate relationship with her mobile phone, and this got me thinking.

My first reaction was: Just say no! – Disconnecting the TV from cable & antenna was one of the best decisions I made when I was about eighteen years old. This gives a certain disconnect from society. You won’t know what Sex and the City is all about, who this singing lawyer is, what the X-Files are all about, and so on. I called this “loosing touch with the Zeitgeist”. But there are benefits, too. You don’t get to see ads for Coke Zero, hamburgers, mobile phone service providers, and telephone sex, and so on. My examples are probably totally off. It just goes to show that I don’t know what they’re advertising for.

Whenever we go on holidays I realize that all I really need is some basic closing, my passport and credit/debit cards. I tell myself that with the plastic, I can buy the rest. I don’t need any of the gadgets. My favorite stereo in my living room is still the first one I bought about ten years ago: A Denon D-F88 (2006-01-14 Gadgets); I watched DVDs on my Playstation 2 for the longest time. I bought my first DVD player two years ago. I bought exactly one digital compact camera (a Canon Exilim S-2) which is still in use, and recently I bought a digital SLR camera (a Pentax K100D, 2006-12-07 New Camera). I’m on my second MP3 player; I used to have an Eratech EMP-Z, now I have a Cowon iAUDIO G3.

As to mobile phones… Congratulations to the person who thought up the ingenious plan of using mobile phones hooked to service contracts as loss-leaders. I’m sure that mobile phones only took off because of how they are cross-subsidized. What this means for me personally is that I already had several phones. Every two or three years, I got a new one for free, or for less than CHF 20.

Incidentally, I think that this kind of financing that hides the “real” cost of things is what helps us destroy the planet while we’re having fun. We’re not seeing that all these mobile phones are produced in factories polluting the environment, requiring rare raw materials (lithium tantalate contains Tantalum) that cause war in remote corners of the world, being shipped across continents in lorries… Just as we don’t directly see and pay for the pay caused by flying airplanes, driving cars, or eating meat. Or living in a modern society in general, in fact.

A short excursion due to the civil war claim. I thought I had heard something like it and wanted to see whether I could find some support for it. Wikipedia provides a link to the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center, and on their web site they write:

The central African countries of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and their neighbours used to be the source of significant tonnages. But civil war, plundering of national parks and exporting of minerals, diamonds and other natural resources to provide funding of militias has caused the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center to call on its members to take care to obtain their raw materials from lawful sources. Harm, or the threat of harm, to local people, wildlife or the environment is unacceptable. [1]

Anyway, back to gadgets and consumerism… I don’t really share Christa’s love/hate relationship with mediating technology like phones and chat because I don’t really have a choice in this respect. My family lives all over the world. Yes, it’s true that the phone or the chat window can remind you of how far away they are and how artificial the entire conversation is, but at the same time I am reminded of the letters I used to write from Bangkok home to friends and family. They’d take weeks, and half of them got lost in the mail. Or when I was four or five and we lived in Namibia. The family would sit around a table and listen to tapes our grandparents sent, and then we’d record answer tapes to send back. Compared to that, I’ll take my mobile phone anytime!

As for wasting money on unnecessary gadgets… There are some. I used to buy lots of CDs until the entire copyright discussion started to piss me off. The angrier I got with the labels, the less I bought. These days I listen to InternetRadio and real radio and to the CDs I bought when I was younger. Living in another disconnect, I guess. I buy a lot of books, and in the last half year I bought lots of roleplaying material. I’ve had five consoles (PS1, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox, Xbox360) and bought at least ten games for each of them. I also had two portable consoles (Color Gameboy and gp2x), but those never took off. I bought the Gameboy because I wanted to know what Pokemón was all about. (I still don’t get it.)

Take home message: Just say no – disconnect your TV!


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2007-06-02 KOTOR 2

I am officially and totally doomed. I opened Star Wars – Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords aka. KOTOR II.

And played it for 7½h straight.


For those of you interested in these things, the first Star Wars – Knights of the Old Republic aka. KOTOR was developed by BioWare – the guys that went on to make the Jade Empire, one of my favorite games.

Back to KOTOR II, though. I was astonished to see that they already use something like the d20 rules. That’s a bit more rules than I was expecting for a roleplaying game. In comparison, I see how the Jade Empire simplifications introduced were clear improvements.

KOTOR II was developed by Obsidian Entertainment.

Strange, it seems that Never Winter Nights was also developed by BioWare, and Never Winter Nights 2 was also developed by Obsidian Entertainment. I’m sure there’s a story hidden in there and I just need to look at the right Wikipedia pages to discover what it is. Some moments later: Indeed! Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, second paragraph: “The game’s system is based on Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Roleplaying Game, which is based on the d20 role-playing game system derived from the Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. […] A sequel […] was developed by a different studio, Obsidian Entertainment, using an updated version of the engine from the first game. Bioware was occupied with producing Jade Empire and wanted to focus more on their original productions than licensed games, but they recommended Obsidian for KotOR’s sequel.”


Oh, and I did say that BioWare was working on a new title I can’t wait to lay my hands upon, right? The keyword is Mass Effect. Look at some of the videos.

An interesting idea I noticed: If you look at the Mass Effect download section, you’ll see that avatars (!) get a significant amount of page area. That’s how important it is to get your little icons placed in forums all over the net.

Oh. And now the bad part. Remember that KOTOR II was done by Obsidian, not BioWare. Then think of the awesome D&D parody comic DM of the Ring; start reading the author’s blog… And read the comments in his discussion of the lousy Never Winter Nights 2 ending. And notice how they don’t like the KOTOR 2 ending either.

Oh noooooo!

Doomed to play a great game with a lousy ending. :'(


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2007-06-02 SVG to PDF

Gah, I can’t find a good SVG → PDF tool that I could install at my webhoster. I downloaded the svgtopdf module from the InkScape svn repository, installed PDF::API2 in my home directory, and tried it.

alex@mirabel:~$ svgtopdf < test.svg > test.pdf
Can't call method "value" on an undefined value at /home/alex/lib/perl5/SVG2/ToPDF.pm line 57.

It seems that the library requires a height and width of the document to be specified. Ok, try again…

alex@mirabel:~$ svgtopdf < test.svg > test.pdf
Creating a page: 1600, 1200
Unknown Object Found 'defs'
Unknown Object Found 'use'
Unknown Object Found 'use'
Unknown Object Found 'use'
Unknown Object Found 'use'

Gah! That’s the central idea behind the SVG I’m generating: I define each hex only once, and then rely on the use element to assemble the map. (2007-06-02 Hex Mapping)

No good.

There’s a svg2pdf that is part of Cairo which works more or less. I built it on my webhost machine. I downloaded, configured using --prefix=/home/alex, compiled, and installed the following from source:

  1. libsvg 0.1.4
  2. cairo 1.4.6
  3. libsvg-cairo 0.1.6
  4. svg2pdf 0.1.3

Building required me to set PKG_CONFIG_PATH=/home/alex/lib/pkgconfig, and running requires me to set LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/home/alex/lib.

Check out my old-school-hex script with PDF support. Source available. [1]

Why am I not 100% happy? Somehow the PDF output doesn’t look too good. The aspect ratio is wrong, I think.


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2007-06-03 Glaathaa, Orks, und Girbolg

immer noch 9. Mai

Die Gruppe trifft auf vier Rattenmenschen. Eine davon ist anscheinend eine Art Hexe. Nach einigem verbalen hin und her und zwei Pfeilen von Belflin’s Bogen führen die vier die Gruppe zu ihrem Lager. Dort, unter einem verhexten Baum, war das Lager der Rattenmenschen. Am Schluss waren es 14 Rattenmenschen, 4 rote Hexen und ihre Shamanin Glaathaa. So erfuhr die Gruppe, dass vor neunzig Jahren Eralion Gethrames Stab geschaffen hatte, und dass er hierfür die Augen der Schamanin Naura verwendet hatte, einer Ahnin Glaathaas.

Entsetzt beschloss die Gruppe, den Stab den Rattenmenschen nicht mit Gewalt zu nehmen, und kehrte nach Fairhill zurück.

10. Mai

Gespräche mit Shandril, erster Kontakt Aurolevas mit der Valkyre Ælgifu, von der die Gruppe erfährt, dass die Tochter Arialle des Schmiedes Voril etwa 25 Meilen von Fairhill entfernt sei. Voril verspricht dem Retter seiner Tochter einen Plattenpanzer. Bero ist interessiert. ;)

11. Mai

Eine weitere Überquerung der Furt, Wanderung zu Gethrames Höhle und Geschichte des Stabes, Weiterreise bis an den Nordrand des Waldes, Übernachtung, Kampf gegen acht Orks und ihren Anführer, Weiterreise bis zu einem Hügel – etwa 25 Meilen von Fairhill – auf dem die Ruine eines Turmes stand.

Im Turm fand die Gruppe einen Ettin namens Girbolg, und des Vorils Tochter Arialle. Girbolgs behelmter Kopf war gut gelaunt und begleitete die singende Arialle auf einer Harfe. Sie sang wunderschön, sein Harfenspiel war fürchterlich.

Auroleva und Corian waren auf Einladung Girbolgs schon im Inneren der Ruine, als Belflin seinen Hass auf alle Riesen nicht mehr weiter bezwingen konnte, und zwei Pfeile auf ihn abschoss. Goskan stürzt sich ebenfalls auf den Ettin und greift ihn mit seiner neuen orkischen Grossaxt an. Der Ettin greift nun unter der Kontrolle des anderen Kopfes zu zwei riesigen Keulen, und fängt an auszuteilen. Innert Sekunden wird zuerst der Zwerg Bero gefällt und kurz darauf fällt Belflin. Den anderen gelingt die Flucht. Bero ist allerdings nicht ganz tot – er stellt sich nur tot, heilt sich kurz darauf und flieht ebenfalls.

Der Ettin trägt Belflin zurück, beruhigt sich wieder, und heilt Belflin mit Hilfe von Arialle und einem Zaubertrank, den er in des Elfen Rucksack findet. Dann kettet er Belflin ebenfalls an einen Felsen.

Offensichtlich wird Belflin nun zum Chorknaben ausgebildet.

Gegen drei Uhr treffen sich die anderen wieder südlich des Hügels, und beraten was zu tun sei. Goskan schlägt vor, ein paar Fässer Bier für Girbolg zu organisieren…


Alle Spieler sind Stufe 2:

  • Acht Orks + Anführer: 8 × CR ½ + 1 × CR 1 – 1500 XP
  • Diskussion mit den Rattenmenschen: CR 2 – 600 XP

Total: 2100 / 5 = 420 pro Person.

2461 + 420 = 2881
2695 + 420 = 3115 ← steigt eine Stufe!
1610 + 420 = 2030
2670 + 420 = 3090 ← steigt eine Stufe!
1650 + 420 = 2070


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2007-06-05 Emacs 22

Emacs 22 was released! So I moved my CarbonEmacsPackage out of the way, and built my own from source:

./configure --enable-carbon-app
make install

The --enable-carbon-app specifies that the Carbon GUI application should be installed into /Applications.

I had to use sudo to install. It seems to work. :)

This will install Emacs in /usr/local and install an Emacs.app in your Applications directory. The Emacs.app you get is very lean: All it will contain is a copy of the binary at /Application/Emacs.app/Contents/MacOS/Emacs. It also means that you can’t just copy Emacs.app to another machine, since all the libraries in /usr/local will be missing.

Once you have that (?), you should be able to run ./make-package --self-contained in the mac directory. That should give you a disk image called EmacsInstaller.dmg where the Emacs.app contains all the common emacs files. Supposedly, there’s still a tiny restriction: You may not run a self-contained Emacs.app from a directory with non-ASCII characters in its name.

When I tried it, make-package did not work. It started configuring (which is why I suspect you don’t need to do a normal installation), and aborted with an error when linking movemail.


Comments on 2007-06-05 Emacs 22

Remember that it took God 7 days to create the Earth, and Emacs is considerably larger :)

You’ll get it working, I know. Either that, or die trying……..

GreyWulf 2007-06-05 09:52 UTC

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2007-06-06 Curse of the Golden Flower

Some days ago we saw yet another Chinese movie set in the distant past, of little political import, lots of Kung-Fu action, and to be honest, I’m starting to tire a bit. Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) was ok. But I can no longer bring myself to recommend these movies.

I thought Man Li was cute. ;)

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2007-06-06 Firefox Extension – Stylish

Perhaps I should start using an extension such as Stylish to start hiding HTML stuff using per-site CSS. Looks like it might work better than trying to fiddle with FireFox’s userChrome.css.


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2007-06-06 GURPS

I was listening to the 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction podcast, where they talked about GURPS supplements being great source books even if you’re not playing GURPS. It reminded me of our own small foray into GURPS country using GURPS Lite. I didn’t quite like it at the time because it seemed unintuitive: I was playing a blacksmith with a heavy warhammer and realized that I could only hit every second round. On the other hand I was the only one who could penetrate the armor of one of the foes I encountered. And all of this surprised me. They seemed like unintended consequences to me. (There’s a short and readable GURPS introduction on Wikipedia.)

Anyway, the publisher – Steve Jackson Games – has a Report to the Stakeholders: 2007 on the web that I enjoyed reading.

Interesting points:

We don’t want e23 to become a pure company store, and we DO want to take advantage of the “long tail” effect.
We’ll continue to offer PDF versions of our new GURPS books, but only after they are available in stores for three months. This was an experiment in 2006, and nothing bad has come of it.
[…] We’ll be doing more POD books in 2007.
– Steve Jackson, Report to the Stakeholders: 2007

POD books, PDF books – I think the ordinary book market and the roleplaying game market are parting ways. As long as ordinary books sell in higher numbers there’s just no need to adapt to small print runs. Perhaps the middle ground just needs to grow some more. Perhaps more individuals will start printing their own books, like my own little Flickr holiday photo album I printed for the family, picture books such as Christa’s Wicked Pixels, or short story collections such as Robin’s Circle Time and Other Stories.


Comments on 2007-06-06 GURPS

Thanks for the links :)

I think that small press publication suits RPGs very well indeed. It doesn’t surprise me to see Steve Jackson going in this direction too - I’d expect more of the “big guys” (not that any of them are particularly large) will start to head this way over the coming year as well. After all, it makes financial sense to only print what’s already been paid for. The “Demand” part of print-on-demand is all important.

Where RPGs go, new fiction publishers will follow as well; I’d expect more novels to come out in this format over time as it puts control (and a larger share of the profits) into the hands of writers than traditional book publishing methods.

GreyWulf 2007-06-06 09:22 UTC

Yeah. I really liked ZorcererOfZo and they got very positive reviews all over the place, and yet when you look at the Zorcerer of Zo six month sales numbers you’ll notice that Chad Underkoffler sold a little over 300 copies.

That’s not a lot. Let’s assume he gets USD 10 per issue sold (download price is at USD 15). That’s a month of badly paid work in my book…

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-06 11:46 UTC

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2007-06-06 Hex Mapping – Roads

I worked some more on the “Old School Hex Mapper” I mentioned before (2007-06-02 Hex Mapping). It does roads! Well, it does them in a crummy way. Basically there’s a road-segment connecting the center of a hex with the edge, which I then copy, rotate, and translate as necessary.

Check out this map with a road. (You need a SVG enabled browser.)

Notice how the ASCII input starts to show limitations when there are more possiblities. Look at this unintended (?) three-way crossing near the city.

The ugly part is that the roads go right through the icons. In fact, they have to, because every road segment has one of its ends in the center of the hex.

So that’s what I’ll try to work on next. I think what I’ll do is have four road tiles, one connecting two adjacent sides (60°), one connecting roads at an angle (120°), and one connecting two opposite sides (180°). Then I can have the connecting parts avoid the center of the hex.

And I’ll get rid of extra three-way crossings near cities and towns. That should be easy to do.

In the mean time, feel free to experiment:

To be honest, I still don’t know whether this is worth pursuing. My hand-drawn hex maps look much better! (My players are not supposed to click the link. :))


Comments on 2007-06-06 Hex Mapping – Roads

I think I’ve worked myself into a dead end, here. Before doing any more development, I should do the following:

  1. Use a hex tile centered on (0,0) in order to facilitate any rotations.
  2. Use a coordinate system with an y axis slanted by 60° instead of the zig-zag I’m currently using in order to facilitiate lookup operations when working on roads.
  3. Split it up in decent subroutines.

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-07 17:05 UTC

I quite like the three-way crossing you’ve got there. It’s unusual features like this which make for good maps, to my mind. After all if it’s like that, there must be a reason :)

Perhaps a lord’s castle is at one of the crossing points and the city is:

  1. abandoned and/or haunted
  2. of a different race (dwarven miners?)
  3. in a different country - the road follows the boundary

Alternatively, maybe the other road leading north from the hills is an Old Road, and largely unused now due to bandits/goblin raiders/lizardkin/whatever. ie, it’s a dangerous route which the players will (innevitably) take :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-08 09:56 UTC

Interesting perspective. :) I was planning on trying to avoid three way crossings in the immediate vicinities of settlements. That’s feasible with a bit of extra coding without requiring too much intelligence built into the system. Thus, if there’s at least one other segment between the crossing and the settlement, we still get three way crossings. Or at least I hope we do.

I’m half way through my rewrite of the code. It uses – God forbid! – objects in Perl! :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-08 11:40 UTC

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2007-06-07 Star Wars Books

I’m interested in Star Wars. I like the movies, I just ordered the new Star Wars Roleplaying Saga Edition by Wizards of the Coast, and I have over 80 points on BookMooch. Most of the time the books I’m looking for are not to be found on BookMooch. So I decided to invest some of my points into Star Wars Books & Comics. I never read them, but recently we were invited to a “Comic Day” and there I read two Star Wars Comics and liked them.

I found that the Wikipedia Star Wars books category is a great starting point when confronted with a huge list of books.

I guess these books are trashy enough to make them good candidates for giving away.

It’s sad to see that most book moochers live in the USA. Is nobody here in Europe reading the Star Wars books?


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2007-06-08 Old School Hex Mapper Getting Better

The Old School Hex Mapper is getting better. Notice how it creates the loop at the bottom using a very small number of simple rules. I have the feeling that it should be possible to formulate the rules required for a decent layouting of roads.

Funny how some skills thought long lost are coming back. 90° – a² + b² = c². 90° & 60° – ½ : √3 : 1.

(Also on GitHub.)


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2007-06-08 Sieben Mulden und eine Leiche

We just saw Sieben Mulden und eine Leiche (2007). I think I want to clean up my apartment, and my cellar.

It’s a documentary about a guy who cleans up his dead mother’s apartment. It starts with him calling the Rentokil man who’ll scrape off the dried remains of his mother from the kitchen floor that got left behind when the police removed the body.

My brother and I had suspected the apartment would be in disorder. But what we found exceeded our worst expectations. Like most “Messies” my mother would do anything to make sure no one ever saw the inside of her home. It took us an entire month to clean out the apartment, and we had to work our way through mountains of things.
– Thomas Haemmerli, Director

The author has a blog. It seems that there’s an English version out there as well: Seven Dumpsters and a Corpse (2007).

Compulsive hoarding aka. as Messie-Syndrom in German is a terrible thing.

The guy at our local video rental described his home to us one day and I think he must be a Messie.

I recommend it, even though it has little in terms of “plot”. It’s a documentary; and it’s about two brothers trying to copy with the mess.

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2007-06-09 HVSC

Every so many years, I get the urge to download the HVSC – music for the SID chip used on the Commodore 64 and related computers.

I really don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t really remember any of these games.

If you feel like looking into it, check out the HVSC Top 100 instead of getting the full archive.


Comments on 2007-06-09 HVSC

Wow. There’s some real classics in there. It’s good to see Rob Hubbard’s name so many times in the list. He was the god of the SID chip! I’m surprised at Wizball being number one, and even more shocked that Suicide Expresss isn’t on the list at all! That’s my personal number one c64 track of all time.

GreyWulf 2007-06-10 10:55 UTC

The most amazing thing is that this stuff fits in 1’993 bytes! :)

And I <3 Wizball!! ok ok

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-10 16:31 UTC

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2007-06-09 Napoleon Dynamite

I saw Napoleon Dynamite (2004) with a friend just now. Boy, it was weird. It reminded me a tiny bit of why I hated highschool (the school bus, asking girls for a dance – I can’t remember who I asked out, probably nobody… :'(). My friend says: “Like slow motion roleplaying dumbasses…” I’m not saying anything. I’m kind of confused and feel reminded of Princess Bride (1987). Maybe there’s a cultural thing I’m not getting. Or I just didn’t hate highschool enough to really appreciate the movie. :)

Perhaps a mix of Princess Bride, Real Life, and Monthy Python. When you watch it, it’s just wierd. But later, when you think back, it’s funny.

Not recommended.

Only thing that was really funny was that my friend thought of a guy we both know who looks, talks, and moves just like he came straight out of the movie. What a hilarious thought. (Code named “Death Angle” and “Le Singe”…)

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Comments on 2007-06-09 Napoleon Dynamite

I’m not a big fan of the movie, but the consensus is that you have to watch it more than once “to get it”. It’s all just an “inside joke”, that becomes recursively wrapped within itself. Then it allegedly gets “better”. It’s the usual formula for film’s that become pop culture hits in the States. Napoleon Dynamite is especially predisposed to this since it was done by MTV Films.

Have you ever seen Rushmore (1999) by Wes Anderson?

AaronHawley 2007-06-12 17:34 UTC

Hm… I wasn’t too impressed by The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).

Too bad they don’t seem to have it in my local DVD swapping network… :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-12 21:42 UTC


Alex, Alex, Alex, …

0 for 2, now! …

What can be done? I don’t know. :)

LionKimbro 2007-06-13 02:40 UTC

I know, I know. :) We must come from different cinematic universes!

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-13 05:39 UTC

Napoleon Dynamite might mean more if you grew up in the US, too;

What impacted me was the authenticity of the show.

In most movies or TV shows that portray high school, it’s a pretty stereotypical “locker” scene, with “cool guys” and “pretty girls” and so on, and high school drama hijinx– nothing like high school actually is.

This movie had Trapper Keepers. Pencils with names engraved on them on the side, out of sheer boredom. Tater tots. Casual awkwardness in interaction.

There are so many things that make this so much more “real,” much more reflective of the real thing, that it totally worked.

But if you don’t grow up living in a US high school, that probably doesn’t come through.

LionKimbro 2007-06-13 16:38 UTC

That’s kind of what I thought. I spent highschool at the International School Bangkok, so I was exposed to a bit of American highschool culture: Juniors, Seniors, gazebo, PE (I managed to avoid that, phew!), AP or in our case, IB, extracurricular activities, having to ask a girl to the prom. And in some ways the awkwardness of social interaction down to the mustache envy seemed plausible enough. But I guess it was still too alien to me. I could only shake my head in disbelief… :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-13 21:32 UTC

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2007-06-10 Character Portraits

GreyWulf wrote about HeroMachine – a character portrait generator. [1] It works quite well for those of us who’re more comfortable with point and click instead of actual drawing. I’m sure it would work even better if I paid the USD 20 to buy it…

Point And Click Samurai

Of course, once you restrict yourself to a certain theme such as ancient Japan, there’s not going to be much choice available to you. But perhaps it’s good enough to differentiate you from the other player characters in the group.


Comments on 2007-06-10 Character Portraits

Hey, that’s pretty good!

It’s surprising just how many different characters you can create, even within a single genre. It just takes a little imagination and a lot of fiddling :)

I’m re-reading Frank Miller’s Ronin right now. It’s a terrific story of ancient Japan meets the 21st century. Here’s my take on the central character, using Heromachine and 10 minutes’ fiddling. Granted, I’m away from my book, and would likely spend more time to get it spot on, but it’s close enough to be recognizable.


Heromachine isn’t perfect by any means (it needs more poses, and a wider choice of eyes and eyebrows, for a start), but it’s much better than my own humble attempts to draw :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-11 09:35 UTC

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2007-06-12 Hidden Blade

We saw Hidden Blade (2004) yesterday. It is very similar to Twilight Samurai (2002) – a humble samurai, modern warfare, a duel in a dark house. Don’t watch them one after the other. Other than that, another excellent movie. A very low gore factor (just one duel near the end).

I recommend it.

My initial reaction to Twilight Samurai2003-12-27. Time flies! :)

Continued: 2008-08-24 Love and Honor.


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2007-06-13 Organize Life Using Emacs

I found a post by dto on his blog on the struggle for organization. I remember a time a year or two ago, when I felt like my projects were pulling me apart. I was interested in WilhelmTux, a FreeSoftware advocacy group here in Switzerland, the FreeSoftwareFoundation, CreativeCommons, OpenLaw (the CC legal lead for Switzerland), various Emacs projects I should have been working on (patches to AnsiColor, patches to SqlMode, patches to ColorTheme, adding MIME to the Rmail mbox branch, my Oddmuse:Plans… It was spiraling into chaos.

Yes, there was PlannerMode. And then there was OrgMode. And other cool ideas on “how to get things done”.

But then I decided to chop it up and let go. I left Wilhelm Tux, I did not get involved in the GPLv3 discussion, I pulled out of Openlaw here in Switzerland, no longer cared about the translation and adaptation of the licenses, found new maintainers for all my Emacs packages, abandoned the Rmail mbox branch.

The solution to project overload is not to organize better. The solution is to do less.



Comments on 2007-06-13 Organize Life Using Emacs

Agree entirely. It’s easy to become swamped with good intentions and end up achieving less (or nothing) instead of just completing one or two things.

I guess the problem is that humans dilute really easily :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-14 15:37 UTC

Indeed. I did feel very productive for a while. But then I started feeling like Bilbo – “spread thin”. It sucked the fun out of everything. It’s a slow death, when you’re not enjoying yourself.

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-14 15:50 UTC

Emacs is good for that. If your life can’t be organized by a handful of modes in Emacs, then you know it’s your life that’s the problem and not Emacs.

AaronHawley 2007-06-15 16:21 UTC

Hahaha! :D 8D ok

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-15 19:01 UTC

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2007-06-14 Patronage

Ok, I broke down. I now subscribed to WolgangBaur’s KoboldQuarterly for USD 10. And I joined his OpenDesign for USD 30.

(Even though I don’t like how he meme-napped “open” for his endeavors.)

I don’t quite understand what my current status is, now. I think I missed the deadline to sign up for The Empire of the Ghouls even though the web page is not quite clear on it. It says “You can join the current project by clicking on the button below.” Which is what I did.

To be honest, I’m most interested in getting Castle Shadowcrag. But it says “it is available to patrons of the current Open Design project.” Standard membership costs USD 30, but Patronage costs USD 75. I’m not sure that the Castle Shadowcrag PDF is worth the difference – USD 45.

Well, the first thing I’ll do is wait for some sort of reaction to my “clicking on the button below”. :)

Update: I have since received my confirmation email, and being a standard member, I still got the opportunity to spend another $27.50 on Castle Shadowcrag. Which I did. After all, the Castle Shadowcrag review on EN World is pretty good, and I have a weakness for all thinks faery ever since reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and half-remembering other stories I must have read as a child.

I also enjoyed this note in the PDF file:

Note for Pirates: Errata, Updates and Warez
If you signed up for the project, I will send you email errata and updates automatically. If a friend gave you a copy of this adventure, if you found it on the Internet (hey, it happens), or if you bought a pirate edition, please send $10 to customadventure@comcast.net using PayPal to register your copy. I’ll send you all errata and updates, and your Internet karma will thank you.

Damn. Too bad none of my friends gave me a pirate copy. ;)

Anyway, I like the idea not denying the existence of unauthorized copying on the net. Instead, think of a way to enjoy the advantages of sharing. I’m not sure this is the best solution, but it’s better by far than what the recording industry is doing… That reminds me of RecordingIndustryVsThePeople.


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2007-06-14 RSS Filters

So here I am, writing lots of stuff about roleplaying games (RPG). And I’m thinking that maybe not many readers are interested in that. So I’m thinking: “Well, they could subscribe to all the other categories.” But this being a wiki, I’m making up categories and tags as I go. So how are you ever going to find the right set of tags. That leads me to the next idea: Negative searches. All new entries except for roleplaying entries.

I wonder if that’s a feature that is interesting enough to implement. Maybe I should check my Oddmuse:Plans and reconsider. :)

Update: Did a few months later: 2007-09-14 Excluding Tags.


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2007-06-15 Diagrams on Flickr

Today I found somebody had mentioned “Oddmuse” in the description of a picture that appeared in the results of the search for “wiki” on Flickr. I looked around. Those pictures are pretty cool! And I realized that Flickr might be a better place for the diagrams I drew. Easier to find for people needing a diagram for their own presentations. So I uploaded them.


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2007-06-15 Firefox Keeps Loading

I’ve noticed that sometimes FireFox will just keep loading a page. On my own website, no less. As if I had an image linked to from my site that it cannot find. But how do I identify the missing piece? Do I install Live HTTP Headers and look for the request without a response?


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2007-06-15 Player Alignment

One of my players plays a lawful good cleric in one campaign and a neutral good druid/cleric in another campaign. We’re fond of saying “here’s an evil player playing a good character…” Today I got an email from one of my players commenting “our DM has an evil alignment, sniff.”

I’ll have to start working on my image. ;)


Comments on 2007-06-15 Player Alignment

At least he’s lawful, lawful evil (shifting slowly to lawful neutral)

– Sektat 2007-06-15 14:07 UTC

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2007-06-15 Science Fiction Roleplaying – T20

Hm, I just downloaded the free d20 variant of Traveller – The Traveller’s Handbook, Lite Edition. Reminds me of similar products: GURPS Lite & HARP Lite.

Strange, I still prefer waiting for my Star Wars Saga Edition (also using d20 mechanics). Am I a mindless snail filled with advertising, or is Star Wars cooler, or did I miss a number of great Science Fiction books from the seventies detailing the Traveller universe? Maybe I should read Wikipedia’s Traveller (role-playing game) article. Except that it is huge.

Wikipedia rocks.

It is also full of nuts and geeks.

I’m a geek myself and like Wikipedia. It all fits.

Anyway. Perhaps people just stick with what they loved as kids. I loved Star Wars! :)


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2007-06-16 Page Count Limit

On the EN World message boards, I was contacted by Cathix. She works for Dog Soul Publishing and asked me whether I was interested in getting published. I said yes, and was looking to combine the three or four adventures I’ve run in my Kitsunemori campaign into a single PDF. Unfortunately, I’m still far from done.

Just now I looked at my PDF: I already have more than 50 pages! I think something is wrong with this page count. I should not be aiming for a 128 page book. Instead, I should try to limit myself to 32 pages. That would make much more sense.

Argh – what should I do? I decided to break it up again and just send them the prelude as a small 15 page adventure. (PDF)


Comments on 2007-06-16 Page Count Limit

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

Refine, refine, refine :)

Radomir Dopieralski 2007-06-17 22:29 UTC

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2007-06-16 Why Free Documentation

The O'Reilly Radar feed pointed me to an interesting article: Why Do People Write Free Documentation? Results of a Survey. Note the survey part. The author has some data to back him up. Unfortunately, it is not much. :( At least it shows that people enjoy community building a lot.

So, there’s the EmacsWiki, there’s OddmuseWiki, there’s an EmacsChannel, there’s an OddmuseChannel. Emacs also has more than half a dozen mailing lists and newsgroups dedicated to it. Anything we’re missing? Because that’s what I’m interested in: Drawing more people into writing documentation.

Anybody who had a problem and knows how to write should be able to share the solution, or should be able to improve existing pointers to point at the right solution, or should be able to improve discussion pages that discuss advantages and disadvantages of various approaches.

Unfortunately, the longer I’m part of projects such as Emacs and Oddmuse, the less I understand whether the tools actually work for newcomers. Does a newbie understand the Emacs Wiki? There are some people who manage to contribute a few pages and leave their names. The problem is we don’t know how many more tried to understand and failed, or understood but failed to contribute.

In a situation where theory is weak and surveys are not statistically significant, we need to resort to experiments. That’s why I think it is important to share what works and what failed, so that others do it as well, and eventually we’ll have enough information available to have a real theory of free documentation writing. ;)


Comments on 2007-06-16 Why Free Documentation

Right. The communities and what they produce needs to be studied.

The article seems to make the important disagreement with previous studies and shorthands that conclude (assume) the “self-interested” motivations of individuals – a legacy of Raymondism et al. But then the article centers on a a survey of individuals!

AaronHawley 2007-06-17 04:46 UTC

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2007-06-18 Post Works After All

At last I got some mail:

  1. Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition Core Rulebook by Wizards of the Coast arrived!
  2. Issue #147 of Dungeon by Paizo arrived!

I guess issue #146 got lost in the mail. Remember 2007-04-29 Dungeon Magazine Subscription – it says that issue #147 was shipped 2007-04-24. I’m no longer used to such time frames. I live on the Internet!!

Update: Upon receiving my mail, Paizo immediately sent a replacement issue #146. Even if this is bad shipping, it is excellent customer service. ok

Update: One day after issue #147, issue #146 arrives in my mailbox. WTF? Am I on candid camera? :) I sent Paizo another mail, telling them not to send the replacement if at all possible. Oh well…

Update: And a few hours later, I found the first two books of the Jedi Academy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson in my mailbox. BookMooch FTW! vee

Sadly, Robin’s package still hasn’t arrived. I think I’m going to pick on the UK postal service next… sardonic


Comments on 2007-06-18 Post Works After All

Ouch :(

OK, I’m on it. Thanks for letting me know. Grrr Post Office.

GreyWulf 2007-06-18 16:10 UTC

No worries. My current assumptions are:

  1. UK Post is slow
  2. Swiss customs decided the package was too heavy and is going to ask me for weight based sales tax; the paperwork for that is slow
  3. Mislabeled package and now the Swiss post is trying to figure out where I live; this service works very well, but it’s slow, too

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-18 23:20 UTC

The package never arrived. :'(

This is my first occurence of a package being lost in the mail ever since I spent two years in Bangkok from 1989 - 1991.

AlexSchroeder 2007-08-13 08:41 UTC

Errm… OK. I’ll go shout at the Post Office here in the UK. It should have been with you WEEKS ago.


GreyWulf 2007-08-13 13:24 UTC

Still waiting for a reply from the Post Office. If I don’t hear anything by the middle of next week, I’ll put together another bundle of goodies for you and right those adventures off. :(

GreyWulf 2007-08-18 10:47 UTC

Did you get my emails on the subject? Basically the Swiss post guys told me that they need some kind of bar code to investigate where the package is. If you have such a thing on your receipt, I could pass it on to the Swiss guys – if the package is stuck in customs or some such, that would help us find out.

AlexSchroeder 2007-08-18 12:07 UTC

Where did you send the mails? robin@greywulf.net has been very flakey of late. greywulf@gmail.com is better. I have a receipt for the postage but no barcode - I’ll go to my local Post Office on Monday and see what I can get from there.

GreyWulf 2007-08-19 12:34 UTC

Hm. Perhaps you can just send me a scan of the receipt? I’ll forward to their customer service agent and see what that gives me… As for the email, it turns out that I have something a silverscreenphotography.co.uk address in my contacs… Will change that. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-08-19 14:12 UTC

Ah, ok. I thought I’d set gmail to collect from that email account automatically. Obviously not, hence the lack or reply from me. Sorry ‘bout that! I’ll fix that now. Intermittent net connection is far from good right now.

Meantime, I’ve been to the Post Office here in the UK and they’re tracking the package for me. I’ll send you a scan of the receipt asap.

GreyWulf 2007-08-20 14:11 UTC

Note that I was extremely unhappy with Gmail’s implementation of Email collecting. It didn’t work fast enough, so over time the remote system would collect a huge backload of Emails. I get too much spam – thus my mail feeds are throttled by Gmail’s fetching. I had to use active forwarding (using mail alias files or ~/.forward files on the other machines to funnel all my mail into my Gmail account.

AlexSchroeder 2007-08-20 14:29 UTC

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2007-06-20 Book Business Models

Well, my recent interest in e-books (usually PDF) is rooted in my renewed interest in RPGs and my interest in DRM. I remember my first exposure to “Trusted Computing” at a local meeting of WilhelmTux. I remember being skeptical and not caring at all – I felt it was a Windows only problem. I’ve changed my mind since then and consider DRM a serious threat to our freedom of expression as we rely more and more on existing works and electronic tools to produce new works.

As my interest shifted away from copyright and licensing to the book publishing business itself, I’ve started reading the O'Reilly Radar, a blog somewhere between book publishing, free software, and web 2.0. ;)

Today I read a report on TOC Day 2 by Sarah Milstein, where she reports on a presentation given by Bob Pritchett, President and CEO of Logos Bible Software. He described two ways of connecting his book publishing with his customers:

  1. Pre-publication subscription. Early sign-ups get a lower price. If the book is printed, those who decide to buy later pay more. In a way the early sign-ups help spread the publisher’s risk.
  2. Community pricing. As people start signing up with a particular amount of money they’re willing to pay, the price of the book goes down. Interesting interrelation.

Reminds me of the roleplaying games author WolfgangBaur and his OpenDesign project, where “patrons” pay him money to write something. The first models made the product exclusively for the patrons; later models seem to allow late joiners to buy the product at a much higher price. Interesting developments. Also reminds me of the StreetPerformerProtocol.

And the guy who convinced me that CodeIsLaw, LawrenceLessig, is moving on to greener pastures: Away from network stuff and IntellectualProperty, to fighting the influence of money in the political process – “corruption” is what he calls it, but one of the comments in his blog points to Capture (politics).

A worthy target.


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2007-06-20 Copyright Kills Bard’s Gate Wiki

Some time ago, I bought the book Bard’s Gate by Necromancer Games. City sourcebook, plain and simple. I liked it. I’m playing in a nearby town called Fairhill (→ CrucibleOfFreya). I was planning on using hooks from Bard’s Gate and was hoping to make my material available to others. The rest of this page is based on the wiki thread in the Bard’s Gate Forum.

On page 3 of the book it says “If you go to […] the fan site…”

But such a site did not exist, yet! I decided to get the domain bardsgate.org and install a wiki on it.

Then I looked at the OGL and realized that you can specify “Product Identity”. You are not allowed to create derivative works based on “Product Identity”. You’re only allowed to build on the “Open Content” of the work.

“Designation of Open Content” on p. 223 says: “All text containing game-related content within this product—excluding any text on the inside or outside of the front or back cover or on the Credits page—is hereby designated as Open Game Content, subject to the Product Identity designation below.”

Further down: “Any and all material or content that could be claimed as Product Identity pursuant to section 1(e), below, is hereby claimed as product identity, including but not limited to: […] proper names, personality […] of all characters, races, countries, creatures, geographic locations […]” etc.

In the worst case, this means that we cannot refer to anything from the book beyond the general fair use exception available to everybody. D’Oh!

I think an interesting approach would have been for the copyright holders (see below) to provide the owner of the bardsgate.org domain (me or anybody else volunteering) a perpetual license to host the site, to be revoked within a two-week notice or something similar.

This means that bardsgate.org would be granted an exception: We could add all the content we wanted, they could keep an eye on us and force us to remove content they felt was abusing their license.

It’s not freedom, but it seems like a good compromise given the fact that they’ve used the license to give us as little freedom as possible. :/

The copyright holders are Necromancer Games, Inc. for most products, Clark Peterson for Original Spell Name Compendium, Creature Collection and Relics and Rituals, Clark Peterson and Bill Webb for Crucible of Freya and Rappan Athuk I + II. I’m ignoring Creature Collection Revised for the moment, since it’s © White Wolf Publishing, Inc.

An exception for all the material copyright by Necromancer Games, Inc., Clark Peterson, and Bill Webb, allowing Bard’s Gate Wiki to publish derived works would have been great. :)

Well, I assumed they must have had something like it in mind when they mentioned “the fan site” on p. 3, so I was hoping there would be an easy answer to all of this.

I think I was wrong, because my email went unanswered. Casey Christofferson, one of the co-authors, sent me two mails and liked the idea. But no reply from Clark Peterson.

I sent a first mail on 2007-04-20. I sent a second mail on 2007-05-28.

No answer.

Was the legal mumbo jumbo too much for him? Was he too busy? Does he think I’m wasting my time and that I should just go ahead? Did he feel attacked by my move to secure the domain name?

I don’t know.

I don’t feel like risking my legal butt by creating a fan site that depends on “fair use”, specially since there is no such thing here in Switzerland. Here, the copyright exception says that I’m allowed to quote existing works for citation purposes. Having a real license, even just two or three sentences, would be better than the current situation.

I also don’t feel like I have to solve this problem all by myself, because Necromancer Games brought this request upon themselves by claiming as much as possible as Product Identity. As it stands, I am more or less supposed not to mention anything that has a name from the book on my website. Unless I misunderstood the license. Did I?

Anyway. Waiting is frustrating. I’ve waited long enough. I’ll just let the domain name expire and do something else instead.


Comments on 2007-06-20 Copyright Kills Bard’s Gate Wiki

Don’t lose hope; bardsgate.org not dead yet. I don’t think there’s going to be a copyright issue so long as you make it clear that it’s a fan site, no challenge is made to the property of Necromancer Games and no profit is being made.

Clark is a pretty cool guy, but rather busy most of the time. Don’t lose heart yet :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-21 17:26 UTC

Hm… I dunno. It has been over two months now. In my frustration I offered to hand the domain and the wiki over to whoever was interested in it. [1]

The wiki looked pretty cool. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-21 20:03 UTC

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2007-06-20 Iron Council

I finished Iron Council by China Miéville. It dragged on and on, and towards the end it was a real struggle to continue reading. I think I have to stop reading Mieville.

Not recommended.

Tags: RSS

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2007-06-21 Mortal Coil

Listening to Episode 18 of 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction I stumbled upon Mortal Coil. It looks cool. It’s dice-less. It has beautiful art. It’s collaborative – the players help build the world. I love it.

It costs USD 22. Yikes!

These PDF books keep getting more expensive.

I'm not sure what to do.

Maybe I should look at the Mortal Coil wiki pages on Random Wiki. They have session reports.

Update: Brian Isikoff of 2d6 Feed in a Random Direction wrote me a mail saying:

“Hey, saw the mention / discovery of Mortal Coils on your website. I wanted to clarify one thing … the hardcopy book is $22. The pdf is $12. ;)
“I found the hardcopy worthwhile at the $22 mark, but as you can tell from the episode, I like the presentation and writing.”

Also note that Robin recommends Dread in the comments to this page.


Comments on 2007-06-21 Mortal Coil

Mortal Coil sure sounds great, though I’m more interested in Dread because of it’s suspense-filling use of Jenga blocks. Here's the ENWorld thread which made me a convert.

GreyWulf 2007-06-24 15:10 UTC

Wow, this sounds brilliant!

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-24 19:09 UTC

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2007-06-21 Predictive Mode

I spent quite some time trying to get PredictiveMode to work after seeing some screenshots on MathiasDahl’s wiki page on PlanetEmacsen. [1]

Once I had it working, I added my own screenshots and setup information to the page on EmacsWiki. Yay for Emacs!


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2007-06-22 Star Wars RPG

Reading the lengthy postive review on the Gamecrafter’s Guild Blog [1]

Star Wars for the win!

Got all three books of the Jedi Academy Trilogy via Bookmooch.

Bought two Star Wars Clone Wars comic collections (ISBN 3-86607-187-6, ISBN 3-86607-188-4).

I am ready! :D


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2007-06-23 Gmail Fetch Problems

I use Gmail for my private emails. Google’s spam filter was the easiest to use (no setup required) and worked the best. You can also fetch mail from other accounts using POP3. This feature doesn’t really work for me. Every month or so I discover that my Emails are not being fetched. What is going on?

Looking at Gmail → Settings → Accounts → View history:

Sat, Jun 23, 2007 at 7:37 PM 200 mails fetched. 2357 mails remaining.
Sat, Jun 9, 2007 at 10:26 AM No mails fetched.
Sat, Jun 9, 2007 at 10:17 AM 2 mails fetched.
Sat, Jun 9, 2007 at 10:12 AM One mail fetched.
Sat, Jun 9, 2007 at 10:07 AM 2 mails fetched.

This is useless.

So I contacted ThomasWaldmann who runs thinkmo.de which hosts emacswiki.org, and asked for advice.

We had the following LDAP entry:

dn: mail=alex@emacswiki.org,ou=Mail,dc=thinkmo,dc=de
objectClass: mailAccount
objectClass: mail
mail: alex@emacswiki.org
gidNumber: 20008
uidNumber: 20008
mailDirectory: /srv/org.emacswiki/mail/alex/
homeDirectory: /srv/org.emacswiki/mail/alex/

We replaced it with the following:

dn: mail=alex@emacswiki.org,ou=Mail,dc=thinkmo,dc=de
objectClass: mailAlias
objectClass: mail
mail: alex@emacswiki.org
mailDrop: alex@gnu.org

I then got a 10MB tarball of /srv/org.emacswiki/mail/alex/ including a directory call ‘cur’ containing what looks to be one file per Email. What would be the easiest way to read them? I’d love to import them into ThunderBird and use my existing spam-filters on them.

Well, first things first. I knew that the subject line of these mails contained the string ***SPAM*** so I unpacked the tarball, changed into the directory with all the files and ran this little command:

    for f in `grep -lF "***SPAM***" *`; do rm "$f"; done

-l prints only the file names that match and -F treats the pattern as a fixed string instead of a regular expression.

That reduced the number of candidates to 161. :)

I tried using Emacs! I knew that Gnus could read and write Email in various formats. So here we go. Start Emacs. Run M-x gnus. Answer ‘y’ to Unable to open nntp:news, go offline? (y or n) and answer ‘y’ to nntp (news) open error: ''. Continue? (y or n) – I don’t care about news right now.

I must have some Gnus data lying around. My *Group* buffer listed two groups: SPAM and BACKUP. I have no idea. :) The last messages are from 2006-05-17. I guess I don’t need them anymore. Use ‘c’ to “catch up”.

Now, I need to create a group that uses my directory as a source… gnus-group-make-directory-group looks like a good candidate: “The user will be prompted for a directory. The contents of this directory will be used as a newsgroup. The directory should contain mail messages or news articles in files that have numeric names.”

Damn the numeric names! :)

I get Group nndir:/Users/alex/Documents/Mail/alex/cur contains no messages.

I wrote a little script called number-files:

for f in "$@"; do
    echo mv "$f" $NUM
    (( NUM++ ))

Calling number-files * was looking good, so I called number-files * | sh. I like double-checking my commands. (As Pierre noted in the comments, this breaks if the filenames contain spaces!)

I got 161 files named “1” to “161”. Still looking good!

Back to Gnus and ‘G d’ to create that directory group.

Hah! It worked!

Now to export it to mbox format…

  1. Use ‘M P a’ to mark all articles with the process mark.
  2. Use ‘C-o’ to write it to a “Unix mail box file”. Too bad this required me to hit RET 161 times. Next time, I need a command without a confirmation question. Gah!

(Update: A helpful visitor suggested setting gnus-prompt-before-saving to t before using before using ‘C-o’.)

Anyway, I used ~/mbox as the output file, and everything is still looking good. A bit less than 4MB of spam to go.

So, where to I put this?

  1. Find the Thunderbird directory. On my Mac, it is /Users/alex/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/0skwxq1c.default/Mail/Local Folders.
  2. Move the mbox file there. I also renamed it to “Mbox”. ;)
  3. Start or restart Thunderbird.
  4. Find your new folder in the “Local Folders” section.
  5. Use “Apply Junk Filter to the Current Folder” from the “Extras” menu. (I’m translating from German to English, so your menu entry might have a slightly different name.)

Hah, done!

Except that now I have to read all the old mail and apologize for my Email problems. :'(


Comments on 2007-06-23 Gmail Fetch Problems

“Calling number-files * was looking good, so I called number-files * | sh. I like double-checking my commands. ;)

Take care though, you break your otherwise correctly quoted script by piping it to sh and it will fail for filenames containing spaces

PierreGaston 2007-06-24 05:43 UTC

Ah… Interesting. I hadn’t considered this. Luckily for me, no problem. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-24 09:26 UTC

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2007-06-24 Gnolle

immer noch 11. Mai

Am Nachmittag machen sich diejenigen, die dem Ettin entkommen sind, auf die Suche nach einem Bauernhof. Etwa zehn Meilen süd-östlich finden sie einen Wehrhof, der gerade von Banditen überfallen wird! Und der Anführer kommt ihnen bekannt vor: Es ist Harold! Beim Eindunkeln wird gekämpft, die etwa 20 Erwachsenen auf dem Hof kämpfen mit Speeren, nur einer von ihnen hat die typische Ausrüstung eines Soldaten des Herzogs.

Bero und Goskan unterstützen die Bauern, Auroleva und Corian nehmen Harold aufs Korn. Der Kampf wird gewonnen, die drei tödlich getroffenen Bauern können geheilt werden, Freude herrscht, doch Harold konnte entkommen. Gerne stellen die Bauern Trockenfleisch, Bierfässer und Schnapsflaschen zur Verfügung.

12. Mai

Zurück zur Turmruine des Ettin. Belflin findet heraus, dass Arialle mit ihren Freunden auf dem Weg ins Quail Tal waren. Anscheinend gäbe es dort einen unglaublichen Schatz: Die Gruft des Larin Karr. Anscheinend lässt sich der Ettin durch Singen beeinflussen.

Ganz genial fand ich, als Belflin’s Spieler dann den Text eines Liedes ausgepackt hat, und mit Moni (als Arialle) und mir (als Ettin) das ganze Lied mit etwa sechs oder sieben Strophen gesungen hat. Ausgezeichnet! :D ok

Der Ettin ist besänftigt. Während drinnen gesungen wird, trägt Goskan die zwei mit Schnaps versetzten Fässer und das salzige Trockenfleisch vor den Eingang. Kurz darauf entdeckt Girbolg das Präsent und freut sich. Belflin gratuliert zum Geburtstag, und bald sind Arialle und Girbold sturz betrunken am Schlafen. Die Gruppe befreit die beiden, Goskan trägt Arialle hinaus, der Rest bringt sich in Sicherheit, nur Auroleva und Belflin bleiben zurück, denn mit Detect Magic hat Auroleva unter dem Haufen von Schutt und Plunder etwas entdeckt.

Belflin macht 5 × einen Move Silently vs. Listen des Ettin (dieser aber mit -10). Geschafft! Belflin findet einen Ring… Später wird sich herausstellen, dass es sich hier um einen Ring of Wizardry I handelt.

Die Gruppe kehrt zurück zu den Wehrbauern.

13. Mai

Die Gruppe beschliesst, den Spuren von Harold zu folgen. Belflin macht einen Survival Check pro Stunde und nach ein paar Stunden erreicht die Gruppe die alte Höhle, wo Harold schon einmal war! Einige Wachen überwachen das Gelände. Die Gruppe kreist alles grossräumig ein und dann gehen sie einfach auf die Wachen zu. Ein Intimidate Check und die Wachen lassen die Waffen fallen. Ein paar weitere kommen aus der Höhle, aber auch sie haben keine Chance. Und zu guter Letzt muss auch Harold aufgeben. Seine Männer haben ihn verlassen, er selber ist ziemlich angeschlagen, und er steckt in einer offensichtlich aussichtslosen Situation.

Hoch erfreut fesselt die Gruppe die Banditen, überquert den Fluss im Westen und erreicht nach einem halben Dutzend Meilen Fairhill.

Voril sieht seine Tochter Arialle wieder! Freude herrscht! In den nächsten Tagen wird sich der Schmied um einen Plattenpanzer und einen STR +1 und einen STR +3 Komposit-Langbogen kümmern. Da Fairhill so klein ist, kann der Schmied allerdings nur Waren verkaufen, die maximal 200 gp Wert sind. Damit ist klar, dass nur der STR+1 Komposit-Langbogen machbar ist. Eigentlich ist auch klar, dass der Plattenpanzer weit über Voril’s Fähigkeiten hinausgeht. Im Normalfall würde es über zwei Jahre dauern (und weit über 10000 gp kosten), bis Voril den Plattenpanzer beendet hätte. [1] Voril hat den Plattenpanzer schon seit Jahren. Damals war eine Gruppe von Abenteurern aus dem Stoneheart Dungeon vorbeigekommen und liess sich ihr Material reparieren. In der Nacht wurde der Gasthof aber von Orcus Priestern und ihren Schergen eingenommen, Teufel erschienen in Mitten von Flammen und Schwefel, und es gab ein grosses Gemetzel. Das war vor fast neun Jahren. Seither schlummert die Rüstung in einer Kiste voller fettiger Wolle vor sich hin.

Am gleichen Tag ist auch Sir Erlinar, ein Sheriff des Herzogs, mit einem Ritter und sechs Fusssoldaten angekommen. Er sucht nach Freiwilligen, die ihm helfen, die zerstörte Wegstation im Stoneheart Forest von den Gnollen zu befreien. Die Gruppe willigt ein, sofern sie sich nicht seinem Befehl unterwerfen muss. Sir Erlinar will dies keineswegs, sondern er will im Gegenteil von der Erfahrung der Gruppe profitieren.

14. Mai

Reise zur nächsten Wegstation.

15. Mai

Überfall und Sieg über die Gnolle. Man findet eine Kiste mit 1000 gp! Die Gruppe übergibt die Kiste Sir Erlinar, der sie sofort beschlagnahmt, und wie folgt verwendet: 500 gp für die Gruppe als Belohnung und 500 gp für den Wiederaufbau der Station.

Der Anführer der Gnolle wird verbunden und nach Fairhill geführt.

16. Mai

Zurück zur Wegstation Richtung Fairhill.

17. Mai

Ankunft in Fairhill. Beim Verhör des Gnoll erfährt Sir Erlinar, dass ein oder zwei Gnollstämme Fort Chance stürmen wollen. Die überfallene Wegstation und andere Miesetaten waren offensichtlich nur Ablenkungsmanöver! Er bittet die Gruppe, so schnell wie möglich Fort Chance zu verstärken; er werde in der Zwischenzeit neue Truppen holen.


Alle Spieler sind Stufe 2 oder 3:

  • Austricksen des Ettin: CR 5 – 1800 XP für alle fünf
  • Harold und diverse Banditen: CR 4 + pauschal CR 3 – 900 + 1350 = 2250 XP
  • Belflin hat beim ersten Kampf gegen die Banditen nicht mitgemacht, hat aber beim Ettin viel dazu gelernt. Das gleicht sich aus.
  • 11 Gnolle: 11 × CR 2 – 6600 XP, geteilt mit acht Leuten des Herzogs

Total: 1800 / 5 + 6600 / 13 + 2250 / 5 = 360 + 508 + 450 = 1318 pro Person.

2881 + 1318 = 4199 (Stufe 2 → 3)
3115 + 1318 + 50 (singen) + 50 (Initiative-Management) = 4533 (Stufe 3)
2030 + 1318 = 3348 (Stufe 2 → 3)
3090 + 1318 = 4408 (Stufe 3)
2070 + 1318 = 3388 (Stufe 2 → 3)


Hier sammle ich, welche Ideen ich für die Zukunft habe. Quest-Wünsche der Spieler werden gerne aufgenommen. Damit will ich vermeiden, dass man etwas ratlos am Tisch sitzt, und nicht weiter weiss.

  • Fort Chance und die Gnolle (bereite ich mal für das nächste Mal vor)
  • Der Schatten in Eralions Ruine
  • Fendrins Manticores
  • Rätselhafte Menge an Stirges
  • Der Schatz von Larin Karr im Quail Tal (bin ich mich am einlesen)
  • Reise nach Bard’s Gate


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2007-06-24 Japanese

A few weeks ago I decided to abandon my efforts to learn Arabic after about four years…

Our holiday plans have revived my interest in learning Japanese, however! I downloaded FlashCard again and created a dozen cards for the first two lessons of my book – Japanisch ohne Mühe von Assimil.

It’s all coming back. :)

I’m not using “anki” or “fc” – just a plain flashcard.el.

Update: I just gave DamienElmesAnki a try. Very slick! <3 ok :D

Importing and exporting worked really well. I’m currently working with a very small deck containing 13 lines only. ;)

あした行きます : ich werde morgen gehen
あそこへ : dorthin
いいですよ : sie ist wirklich gut
そうですか : ach ja
そうですね : ja, wirklich
どこへ : wohin
まだです : noch nicht
わかりました : ich habe verstanden
ピカソ展 : Picasso-Ausstellung
何を : was
見ましたか : haben sie gesehen
行きましょう : gehen wir
暑いですね : es ist warm
早く : schnell


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2007-06-26 Craft Skill

The D&D Craft rules suck. They are too damn complicated & hard to predict. I think it would have been better to provide a simple formula based on the assumption that people Take 10. I need to write some code to figure out how long something will take given its price, the DC, and the skill. I hate it when the rules are so complicate that you cannot guestimate time and cost.

I think this is what happened to the authors of CrucibleOfFreya. There’s a smith having Craft (armor) +4 who will provide the party with a plate armor if they rescue his daughter. According to the craft rules, we determine the price (1500 gp = 15000 sp), and the DC (10 + 8 = 18).

Some Emacs code to help me out:

(defun d (x y)
  "Roll XdY."
  (let ((total 0))
    (dotimes (i x)
      (setq total (+ total 1 (random y))))

;; (d 1 20) => 12

(defun craft (dc skill price)
  "Craft something of a given DC using a SKILL given its PRICE in gold pieces.
Example: Craft (armor) +4, DC 18, 1500 gp for a village smith trying to
craft a suit of plate mail."
  (interactive "nDC: \nnSkill: \nnPrice (gp): ")
  (let ((progress 0)
	(target (* price 10))
	(raw (/ price 3))
	(cost 0)
	(week 0))
    (setq cost raw)
    (while (> target progress)
      (setq week (1+ week))
      (let ((roll (+ (d 1 20) skill)))
	(cond ((>= roll dc)
	       (setq progress (+ progress (* roll dc))))
	      ((<= roll (- dc 5))
	       (setq cost (+ cost (/ raw 2)))))))
    (message "It takes %d weeks and %d gp to craft." week cost)))

;; (craft 18 11 1500) => (51 1250)

(defun sample (func)
  "Average 100 calls of FUNC.
FUNC must be a function that takes no argument and returns a list of numbers."
  (let ((total nil)
	(sample-size 100))
    (dotimes (n sample-size)
      (let ((result (funcall func)))
      (dotimes (i (length result))
	(let ((r (assq i total)))
	  (unless r
	    (setq total (cons (cons i 0) total)
		  r (car total)))
	  (setcdr r (+ (cdr r) (nth i result)))))))
    (nreverse (mapcar (lambda (x) (/ (cdr x) sample-size)) total))))

;; (sample (lambda () '(5 6))) => (5 6)
;; (sample (lambda () (list (random 10) (random 20)))) => (4 7)

Now we’re ready to roll!

Ordinary equipment (+0), Craft (armor) +4 as written:

(apply 'message "It takes %d weeks and %d gp on average."
       (sample (lambda () (craft 18 4 1500))))

⇒ It takes 112 weeks and 13042 gp on average.

Assuming enough aids to grant him a +4 bonus on average, a maxed out Craft skill ranks(+9), skill focus on that very skill (+3), and masterwork equipment (+2):

(apply 'message "It takes %d weeks and %d gp on average."
       (sample (lambda () (craft 18 18 1500))))

⇒ It takes 29 weeks and 500 gp on average.

It remains a formidable task!

I think for the purpose of this adventure, we’ll have to assume that Voril the smith has a nearly finished plate mail hidden in his closet.


Comments on 2007-06-26 Craft Skill

I think you missed a couple of points ;)

- there’s a reason why you can’t buy that expensive equipment in villages of that size

- not knowing the smith’s Int I’ll assume it’s a +0 (since +9 is your maxed out skill total) meaning the smith has 4 ranks and most probably is a maxed out Level 1 expert. So basically we are dealing with an armoursmith who has just finished his apprenticeship and has reached the level of expertise of a journeyman

- how many full plates has the smith crafted in his career as village blacksmith so far? Given that the first one takes him two years to produce, I’d say not many as most adventuring folks will probably simply move to a bigger settlement where they’ll find a smith who actually can produce that stuff

- your math has room for improvement ;) For example, even our village smith hopefully can afford masterwork artisan tools granting a +2 circumstance bonus. Next, if he’s not really dump, he’ll take two apprentices to aid him in this endeavour. All our friendly smiths have to do now is take 10s for 47 weeks and voilà they’re finished with 500gp material cost. 3 apprentices and we are down to 42 weeks etc.

- I personally believe all crafting rules are made “unfriendly” / realistic on purpose to prevent players from starting their own business instead of having exciting adventures, so good stuff :D

– madalex 2007-06-28 06:54 UTC

Well, the source book says he’s a level 6 expert with various Craft skills, including a Craft (armor) +4. I don’t dispute that this guy has not and will probably not make any plate armors. What I’m criticizing is that the module text says he’ll make a piece of plate armor in gratitude when the rules as they are written clearly require him to work on it for years. Also note my second example where I maxed out his Craft (armor) skill to +9, skill focus feat for another +3, granted him apprentices who Aid Another for another +4, masterwork equipment for another +2 – and it still takes him more than half a year. That’s Ok as far as I’m concerned. As far as CrucibleOfFreya is concerned, the rules require a different explanation for the plate armor he smith offers, that’s all.

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-28 08:07 UTC

Well, your beginning statement was “The D&D Craft rules suck.”, so it was kind of hard for me to guess that your actual critique was about the adventure and its assertion that the smith will craft that damn thing. ;)

– madalex 2007-06-28 11:03 UTC

I understand. I’ll edit the post to reflect that both the rules and this particular aspect of the module suck. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-28 14:31 UTC

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2007-06-26 DVD Copying

Every year I have the same problem. Somebody Claudia knows has made a DVD of a performance or workshop or whatever, and I need to copy it. I want it on our external harddisk, and a copy on DVD. And I keep forgetting how to do these things. It seems once I’ve done it a certain way once or twice, I switch computers and the stuff I learnt has become useless.

After wasting about 10 empty DVDs with unusable images, here’s what I had to do.

Figure out the device the DVD is on:

    diskutil list

Unmount the disk without ejecting it (otherwise you’ll get a “dd: /dev/disk2: Resource busy” error):

    diskutil unmount /dev/disk2

Make image:

    dd if=/dev/disk2 of="Volkshaus 1.img" bs=1048576

I still don’t understand why the regular hdiutil makehybrid -udf did not work. Somehow I have no trouble understanding that using Apple’s Disk Utility did not work. ;)


Comments on 2007-06-26 DVD Copying

This is what I tried at first:

I used MacTheRipper to extract the VIDEO_TS folder on the external harddisk, faintly remembering that just copying the VIDEO_TS folder didn’t work. Trying to remember what the problem was (2005-05-05 Software), I think it was unrelated to simply copying the files. The problem at the time was that my images were not created using -dvd-video for mkisofs. Later I tried mounting the broken DVDs (that worked), and recreating a disk image using the dvd-image shell script below. It did not work either.

if test -z "$1"; then
    echo Path to directory is missing
    exit 1
elif test ! -d "$1/VIDEO_TS"; then
    echo Directoy does not contain a VIDEO_TS folder
    exit 2
NAME=$(basename "${DIR}")
hdiutil makehybrid -udf -udf-volume-name "${NAME}" -o "${NAME}" "${DIR}"


    dvd-image /Volumes/Volkshaus\ 2

Most of the above based on Burn a playable DVD from a VIDEO_TS folder at mac OSX hints.

No matter what I tried, I was not create an image that I could burn such that I could play the DVD on a regular player. It only worked using VLC.

I tried to use File → New → Disk Image from Folder in Disk Utility, choosing “DVD/CD master” as the image type or format. This resulted in a *.cdr file, but after burning it, I was still not able to play the DVD on a DVD player.



dd if=/dev/dvd of=disk.img bs=1048576 ?

AlokSingh 2007-06-27 10:33 UTC

Yeah, I thought about that. A quick search of my own blog led me to 2005-05-05 Software where I had a filesize problem. That’s why I didn’t pursue the solution. But you are right – as long as the external hard disk doesn’t use the VFAT filesystem it should work. Compared to reading and burning the disks, the conversion to a disk image really didn’t matter much.

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-27 11:19 UTC

It turns out that none of the things I tried produced a DVD that could actually be read! I hate these things…

So now I did what you suggested.

Figure out the device the DVD is on:

    diskutil list

Unmount the disk without ejecting it (otherwise you’ll get a “dd: /dev/disk2: Resource busy” error):

    diskutil unmount /dev/disk2

Make image:

    dd if=/dev/disk2 of="Volkshaus 1.img" bs=1048576

Let’s see whether that works.

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-27 13:41 UTC

It works!!

<3 <3 <3 Thank you Alok! :D

I wonder what the problem was. I ran out of empty DVDs of a particular make and switched to another. I created the initial VIDEO_TS folders using MacTheRipper. Theoretically, either of these two could be the culprit.

In a strange way, I’m happy I’m returning to the command line. ;)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-27 15:00 UTC

heh. To be honest, this is the only way I know to make copies of disks. When I did it front of a friend once, he asked me if I was some kind of Luddite. “Don’t you have something more sophisticated ?”

I suppose some fiddling with block_size would help make things go a bit faster.

AlokSingh 2007-06-28 06:58 UTC

I am so incredibly happy. I nearly started down the same road once again. But then I remembered to search my own blog. I feel like my past self is helping me out right now. Leaving messages to your future self is weird.

Except that it doesn’t work in this case. :'( The dd operation just kept reading data and the image was reaching more than 6G when in fact there is only about 300M of data. Damn it!

Oh and I tried the Mac The Ripper + hdiutil combo, and I tried the Disk Util → File → New → Disk Image from Folder, and sure enough neither will play on my DVD player. I hate hate hate hate this. Two DVD blanks wasted.

I tried reducing the block size. dd if=/dev/disk2 of="31.01.2009 Hochzeit Ariane.img" bs=2048. Then I realized that this time around the DVD was on disk3. I had unmounted disk3, but read the image from disk2. No wonder it got to 6G and counting! groan There is no headshot icon to use… fishbone

AlexSchroeder 2009-09-19 12:38 UTC

For DVDs that are borked, I’ve tried using ddrescue as follows:

    ddrescue -b 1048576 /dev/disk2 \
                        /Volumes/Video/Oriental\ Moods\ 2009.img \
                        /Volumes/Video/Oriental\ Moods\ 2009.log

AlexSchroeder 2010-02-07 20:56 UTC

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2007-06-28 Low Level Play – E6

Ryan Stoughton has a system he calls E6. Here it is:

Character progression from level 1 to level 6 is as per D&D. Upon attaining 6th level, for each 5000 experience a character gains, they earn a new feat. Feats with unattainable prerequisites under this system remain unattainable.

Nice, eh?

I like low-level play, and that’s why I like this system. My Kitsunemori campaign is hitting level 6. We’ll see how it goes from here. I think my players want to see high-level play, and I’m curious as well. I’m not looking forward to preparing adventures for high-level play, however. Using Red Hand of Doom will carry us from level 6 to 12, however, so I’ll postpone any decisions.


Comments on 2007-06-28 Low Level Play – E6

Interesting take. My first impressions are that it’ll end up being a headache converting class abilities into feats, then having fighters wanting to take your new “Rage” and “Sneak attack” feats, or wanting to multi-class but can’t. Hmmm.. Nope. Doesn’t work for me…

If I wanted to keep the game low level, I’d just slow down the amount of XP and magic items given :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-28 15:19 UTC

Well, I think think the way I’d play it is by not writing too many new feats. There would be a new sorcerer feat to learn a new spell, perhaps. But essentially, nothing new. Ryan said somewhere that once his players reach sixth level, he suggests that they start looking for goals beyond powering up.

We’re back in the affordance discussion: The rules make it easy to rise in level, be powerful, beat dragons, etc. By capping at sixth level, he makes it explicit. His players agree to play at sixth level always instead of powering up very slowly. I guess this is an attempt in shifting the mental stance, changing expectations.

I happen to agree with many of the DMs on the E6 thread: Interesting idea, but my players won’t accept it. Well, I didn’t really ask them, but that’s what I suspect.

Since we’re currently all playing our first campaign again, I’m not worried. Let’s reach 12-15th level, start an adventure path taking us again from 1st to 20th level, restart and do it again, and then when I’m slowly runnign out of high-level material (hah!) we can always come back to E6. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-28 16:44 UTC

Why bother with a class-based system to begin with then? Take Everway and go with that :)

– madalex 2007-07-01 22:35 UTC

Well, I enjoy using the spells I know, the monsters I know, and perhaps even some of the low and mid level adventures I own… What do you like about Everway? I’m intrigued by the Everway page on Wikipedia…

If I wanted to be rules-light and nearly d20 compatible, I’d pick up Robin’s M20 again. And if I wanted just rules-light, I’d pick up subjective Fudge. Something like Märchen Fudge. :)

AlexSchroeder 2007-07-02 00:40 UTC

I like Everway as it’s easy, flexible and fast… combats usually only take a couple of minutes to resolve, if at all, character creation is easy and still you get characters with a great depth to them - basically, Everway is less rules and more story.

– madalex 2007-07-02 10:55 UTC

I remember trying to get my players interested in Grofzg (German) or Grofzg With Fudge Dice, my first rule-lite diceless system… They didn’t like it. :(

I fear that I’d be buying Everway for myself to read, and for everybody else to ignore. Should you run a campaign using Everway, I’m interested. :)

But first – Changeling!

AlexSchroeder 2007-07-03 00:16 UTC

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2007-06-29 Monkey

I started reading Monkey by Wu Ch’Êng-Ên aka. Journey to the West as translated by Arthur Waley (who also translated The Tale of Genji). It was fun in a burlesque way. The setting reminded me a bit of Orion by Masamune Shirow. While Orion is great fun, and a Comic, and short, Monkey is hundreds of pages, and seems to lack a big plot. It seems to be better suited for reading to children than to keep you awake at night, eagerly turning page after page. That’s why I’m abandoning the book after having read ninety pages.

Not recommended.


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2007-06-29 Save Prep Time

How to avoid a burnout? A reader asked for help on EN World. Here’s what I recommended.

Figure out what is taking you so long, and drop it.

Spending too much time on NPC stats?
Buy some, or have several sessions fighting only monsters, or just use the generic stats from the DMG, or use the NPC Generator 2.
Spending too much time preparing spellcaster tactics?
Do away with spellcasters for a while. Use monsters with lots of hitpoints, big damage reduction, high AC, good saves, high damage per second ratings – and no spell like abilities, no supernatural abilities, no special abilities, none of that.
Spending too much time on adding class levels to monsters?
Don’t do it. Pick a different monster, or let them use magic items, or use a simplified warrior class: +1 to-hit per level, +1 Fort per level, +1d10 per level. Done. No feats and save some time.
Spending too much time crafting NPCs using Prestige Classes?
Use core classes only and use fluff to bridge the gap.
Spending too much time picking feats?
Either do away with feats (like the simplified warrior above), or pick a feat chain and have all NPCs of a certain type follow the same feat chain. This makes things easy. Pick NPC level, figure out the number of feats, start at the beginning. An example from Kitsunemori: Iaido – This martial art is all about drawing a weapon first to deal maximum damage in as little time as possible. Feats: Quick Draw, Power Attack, Cleave, Great Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Overrun, Improved Sunder, Weapon Focus, Greater Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Greater Weapon Specialization, Weapon Technique, Improved Critical, Deadly Arc (samurai only), Zanshin (samurai only), Improved Zanshin (samurai only).
Spending too much time drawing maps?
Reuse. In my current campaign, I’ve reused a little seven-room ruined castle five times. Whenever the party left, something evil came back eventually.
Spending too much time inventing background?
Drop it. Running adventures is not about being a Fantasy-author wannabe. It’s not story-telling all by yourself. It’s about being there, at the table. Focus preparation on the stuff that is going to happen at the table. If players go in unexpected directions (“You said they had one of the biggest libraries here, right? My character will read up on the hobgoblin rituals!”) don’t be afraid to say you’ll think of something, and prepare an adventure hook. Just switch to meta if you don’t want adventure hooks (“You spend hours and hours pouring over the ethnology books, and truly it is fascinating. But it won’t help you in this quest. Let’s go back and join the rest of the party…”)

Finally: Take a break and let somebody else run a game or two.

Somebody else said: “The thing that burns me out is unfamiliarity with spells or combat maneuvers while statting NPCs.”

I think the solution to that is (if you’re writing adventures yourself) to reuse. For my Asian campaign I have various samurais: Sam-1 for guards, Sam-3 for young relatives of the samurai, Sam-5 for the lord, his eldest son, his commanders, Sam-7 for the sensei. They all take the same feats. Thus, I minimize on feat variety and make it up with more fluff.

I usually try to minimize the number of spellcasters. If they get to cast spells, I plan for five rounds of combat max. Then I pick the spells I’d like them to have. I go the same route as for the samurai. There is a death cult, they are all Cle-5, and they all like to use Sanctuary and Summon Monster, and when summoning monsters, they all like to summon hell hounds. What varies is that the first of them had many undead to fight for him, the second had an unholy spear +1 on him, and the last one read a scroll of Planar Ally and made a deal with a bearded devil. Stat-wise, the clerics were all identical, and I only really had to know three spells for every fight.

The person also said: “I’m constantly playing a balancing game to make sure they’re not over- or under-whelmed. […] I have to adjust up all the HP, AC and equipment/treasure for each NPC.”

I said that I’d never do that. I’d just add or remove standard mooks. If the party is unfairly overwhelmed, reduce their opponents’ morale and have them flee sooner. If the party is unfairly underwhelmed, have reinforcements coming. Adjusting the number of standard monsters or mooks is much easier than fiddling with the stats.

I also liked DM Jeff’s advice:

  1. Draw a map. Don’t maintain separate room descriptions, just scribble on the map.
  2. Use tiles for the players. That is something I have not been using a lot. Maybe I should.
  3. Collect NPCs from other sources and keep them in a binder and reuse.

I specially liked his example for an encounter description. The second half is optional. ;)

  • Cursed Swan lake.
  • 3 dire slugs (Blasphemy Press PDF, page 21)
  • Treasure: Crown of Acarra (AEG’s Mercenaries page 203)
  • Claw-like tree hangings
  • Darkly sky
  • Lack of natural noises


Comments on 2007-06-29 Save Prep Time

Good advice, all :)

GreyWulf 2007-06-30 14:15 UTC

When you’re aiming for semi-publishable material such as your wiki or blog, on the other hand, you’re basically trying to do other people’s prep work. Argh!

AlexSchroeder 2007-06-30 23:14 UTC

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2007-06-30 Sony, Unfortunately

We decided that it was time to replace the old Panasonic TX-28DK20D. First, we wanted to buy a Samsung LE32R72B. The price was right – CHF 1299, and I didn’t want to buy a Sony because of their decrepit opinions regarding copyright and privateers (what they call “pirates”). But when I arrived at the shop today, the Samsung was sold out. The next shop who had it was too far away for public transport. And the Samsungs were selling so well, the other shop did not want to send it to the shop where I was. So I looked at all the models in the CHF 1000 – 2000 price range again. Two unknown brands had interesting models: LG and Finlux. And there was the Sony Bravia model we had already looked at. The sales manager hooked the same DVD up to the models I was considering. The Sony did look better than all the others. It cost CHF 400 more than the others, but the grass was definitely greener on that side of the fence. So I relented and bought the Sony KDL-32S2520.

Now I feel bad for taking my business to the enemies of FreeCulture.


Comments on 2007-06-30 Sony, Unfortunately

I think sooner or later the industry will understand that information is free and they only sell packaging… actually, I think there’s a record company which offers now a three-staged price model on CDs, one more or less equivalent to your self-burned CD, one like the standard we have nowadays and one which lots of extras, big booklet, etc. - so it seems they are on their way.

Nice thing is they actually hasten themselves unto that path unvoluntarily with their myriads of cases in courts some people have started to fight back legally. http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com/ has news on this (don’t yet how good it is as I found it only recently).

– madalex 2007-07-02 18:25 UTC

I’ve become a bit jaded over the last few years. I no longer believe in the industry’s ability to change. I think we’ll see the same thing as in personal life or academia: Enemies are not befriended, opponents are not convinced, and nobody learns anything. They just die, and the next generation will try to be different.

I read RecordingIndustryVsPeople for a while, and it inspired some hope. At the time there was quite a lot of material coming in on that feed. I felt like I was drinking from the fire hose and stopped.

AlexSchroeder 2007-07-03 00:13 UTC

ehe, keep faith ;)

Sony let you install another OS in their PS3 sun has opened solaris and Java

PierreGaston 2007-07-03 08:26 UTC

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2007-06-30 Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design

Kobold Quarterly Yeah, I joined WolfgangBaur’s OpenDesign a few days ago. I thought it was interesting that he runs his business using LiveJournal – visit his CustomAdventure blog and you’ll see some KobolQuarterly posts. If you pay USD 30, on the other hand, he’ll add you as a friend to his LJ account, and then you’ll see all his other blog posts as well – the ones where he reports on his play tests, design decisions made, or polls when he’s throwing ideas around.

On the one hand, this is cool. :)

On the other hand, I don’t see how I can read his feed using BlogLines, as it doesn’t have my username and password, and thus it is not one of Wolfgang’s friends. Damn. :/


Comments on 2007-06-30 Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design

I don’t know about BlogLines, but you can provide authorization details with NewsGator, perhaps that’s an alternative for your needs.

On a different angle, if your interested in RPG authors blogs, I’ve subscribed to two different ones: Robert D. Laws (published great stuff, like Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, and Earthdawn stuff etc.) and Phil Brucato (the old World of Darkness Mage: the Ascension and more recently Deliria etc.) - perhaps others reading this blog have other links to share :)

As for writers in general, I read the blogs from Dan Abnett, Elaine Cunningham, George R.R. Martin, Laurell K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman and William Gibson…

– madalex 2007-07-01 22:01 UTC

Well BlogLines is web-based, so I can read my feeds from anywhere. I tried to sign up using username, password, and asking for HTTP Digest Auth – http://kensanata:secret@customadventure.livejournal.com/data/atom?auth=digest – but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work. :(

As for RPG authors I enjoy reading… I’ll have to go through my BlogRoll one of these days and pick a few selected ones I can really recommend. At the moment I’m still exploring.

AlexSchroeder 2007-07-02 00:34 UTC

Well, NewsGator is also web-based and free to boot ;)

– madalex 2007-07-02 10:49 UTC

Somehow I was under the impression that NewsGator was a desktop application. Testing… It works! :)


AlexSchroeder 2007-07-02 12:26 UTC

NewsGator has also an Outlook plugin but I think you have to be a paying customer for that feature, not sure… I stopped using NewsGator a couple of months ago in favour of Google Reader as that is superior in parsing the the blogs and displaying them, plus is also faster in pulling the blogs in.

– madalex 2007-07-02 17:52 UTC

Hm… Google Reader. Interesting option. I’ll have to investigate. I like GMail a lot. But then again, I try to use non-Google alternatives when possible for everything else. A vain effort of trying to spread the risk…

I contacted BlogLines and asked them about the setup because some web pages were claiming that it would work. So we’ll see what they say.

AlexSchroeder 2007-07-03 00:14 UTC

This is kinda moot, now that we’re moving to the forums, but what I did is I set up LJ to send me an email notification whenever Wolfgang posted a new blogpost. I never missed a post this way. Actually, it’s the one thing I am going to miss now that we’re going to the forums.

Highmoon 2007-08-31 12:33 UTC

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