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# 2007-10-02 Afterthoughts

Some things and differences that I remembered in recent days, thinking back on our holidays in Japan…

1. An overabundance of policemen or security people. It seemed that every construction site had at least one policeman. If there was a makeshift wall around the site, there would be at least one policeman per gate. And that one time we were walking arond Tokyo station looking for some Open WLAN we saw a worker carrying something big and heavy, accompanied by a policeman who asked people to step aside while the worker kept on carrying his thing. That seems pretty inefficient to me.
2. Late in the evening, between eight and ten, “salarymen” and moving like a constant trickle of people from their offices to bars and home. Some of these people are drunk. And I don’t mean tipsy. In a society where face means so much, the drunk people seem to enjoy some kind of immunity. Being barely able to talk, being helped by friends left and right, being pulled along by a sober female – all these situations would cause terrible loss of face here in Switzerland. To be drunk in public is a major faux pas in Switzerland and apparently no problem at all in Japan.
3. I knew it from the mangas, but I was still surprised by the volume of it: When the Japanese eat cold soba or udon noodles, they first use their chopsticks to move the noodles into a little bowl with a soy-sauce based, cold liquid, and then they stick some noodles in their mouth, start slurping, and keep on shoving more noodles at an impressive speed. Slurp… slurp… slurp, slurp, slurp, slurp! slurp! SLURP! slurp-slurp. slurp… Whoa! Here in Switzerland slurping is considered to be a sign for a lacking education.
4. Similarly, we heard it was considered to be a sign of lacking control if you blow your nose. You’re supposed to snuffle (and swallow, I guess). And that’s considered to be very gross here ins Switzerland.
5. There was a constant ding-dong electric bell near public toilets. I don’t know what purpose it served; I suppose it might help blind people find their way. I didn’t see many blind people on the streets, however.
6. Umbrella lockers! Some public buildings had a rack at the entrance where you could place your umbrella, lock it, and take a key with you. A sure sign of too much rain! I guess we were lucky with our weather.

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Und: Japaner parken rückwärts. Sieht man auf einem grossen Parkplatz einen Vorwärtsparker, weiss man, dass es kein Japaner ist ;)

– Chris 2007-10-05 20:29 UTC

Die Geschichte mit den Betrunkenen erinnert mich sehr an Island. Dort haben sie ebenfalls die Unterstützung der ganzen Bevölkerung und es ist überhaupt keine Schande so richtig besoffen zu sein. Das gilt auch für Personen im öffentlichen Leben, bis hinauf in die höchsten Stellen.

– der Vater 2007-10-12 02:53 UTC

# 2007-10-03 Wikipedia For The Win

I Wikipedia!

I’m reading up on Japanese sculptures in my biggest bookOstasiatische Kunst by Gabriele Fahr-Becker. And when it mentions a certain sculptor named Jōchō and his Amida statue in the Byōdō-in without providing a picture, I can just Google for all these names and sure enough, the appropriate Wikipedia pages come up and there are in fact images of the very statue I’m looking available on the Jōchō page.

Perhaps I should donate some money to Wikipedia. I’ve started using it more and more over the last year or two.

And perhaps I should rethink my thoughts on search engine support for Oddmuse. Right now my main priority has been minimizing load by search engines. Perhaps a new trade-off needs to me found.

# 2007-10-04 New Oddmuse

After some major changes to Oddmuse – moving Permanent Anchors and Near Links into a module, rewriting Local Names, rethinking the Search Engine policy – I went ahead today and installed it for this site and for EmacsWiki.

Maybe I’ll have to use NOINDEX for page views containing a diff (such as the diff for this page).

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Good stuff. I’ll be testing this today. I agree, modular is definitely the way to go.

greywulf 2007-10-04 09:46 UTC

I’m also interested in learning whether my new approach to Oddmuse:Search Engines makes sense. Feedback would be muchly appreciated.

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-05 12:27 UTC

# 2007-10-06 More pictures

I uploaded another batch of 21 pictures to my Japan 2007 Flickr Set.

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# 2007-10-07 Ettins

22. Juni

Die Gruppe reist zurück nach Twain und bespricht sich mit Angus Carl, dem Zwergenjuwelier. Man einigt sich darauf, Silber und Gold bei ihm als Anzahlung für Juwelen zu deponieren. Vor der Abreise hat Boris die Gruppe vor einem roten Drachen in den Gaskar Hügeln gewarnt. In Twain will aber niemand diesem Gerücht glauben. Von Felix Wurst, dem Wirt vom Wildsauschädel Gasthof, erfährt die Gruppe von einem verlassenen Dorf keine zehn Meilen nördlich von Twain. Das will sich die Gruppe näher ansehen.

23. Juni

Im verlassenen Dorf findet die Gruppe zwei Ettins. Belflin, der ja in der Nähe von Fairhill schon mit Ettins zu tun hatte, beschliesst, mit ihnen zu reden und ihnen ein Reh zu versprechen. Krel wird von Corian unsichtbar gemacht und begleitet Belflin. Belflins Angebot nehmen die Ettins gerne an und freuen sich, so einen netten, kleinen Diener bzw. so ein freundliches Essen gefunden zu haben. Bald darauf entdecken die Ettins allerdings die Pferde und finden diese auch ziemlich schmackhaft. Belflin windet sich und schafft es, die Pferde in Sicherheit zu bringen, verbringt drei Stunden auf der Jagd; Krel versteckt sich am Waldrand und beobachtet die Ettins; Corian und Auroleva bleiben versteckt auf dem Dach eines Gebäudes. Irgendwann entdeckt Krel ein etwa Kuh-grosses Insekt, das aus einem Gebäude heraushuscht, sich etwas schnappt, und wieder verschwindet. Die Ettins werfen mit Steinen nach dem Ding. Die Ettins untersuchen auch noch andere Gebäude, ohne dass ersichtlich wird, was sie dort suchen.

Als Belflin das Reh bringt, nutzen die Ettins die Gelegenheit und verpassen ihm ein paar sanfte Schläge, um ihn ins Land der Träume zu schicken. Er täuscht Ohnmacht vor und sinkt zu Boden. In diesem Moment springt Auroleva vom Dach, steigt auf ihr Pferd, und lockt die Ettins weg von ihrem Grillplatz; Krel holt Corian vom Dach, und alle ziehen sich zurück. Die Ettins geben auch die Verfolgungsjagd schnell wieder auf und kehren zum Feuer zurück. Doch der nette kleine Diener ist weg! Oje…

Die Gruppe schlägt ein Lager weiter entfernt vom Dorf. Die Nacht verläuft ruhig – aber im Morgengrauen überfällt ein Löwe die Gruppe als Corian mit Tufus die letzte Wache hält. Tufus kann nur noch zuschauen wie sein Meister mit zwei Prankenschlägen zu Boden geht und vom Löwen weg vom Feuer in die Dunkelheit gezerrt wird. Doch Krel, Belflin, und Auroleva sind schnell zur Stelle und retten ihren Freund.

24. Juni

Die vier Helden schleichen sich wieder zurück ins “verlassene” Dorf und beobachten, dass ein Ettin eine Ruine durchsucht, und der andere Ettin im Schatten an eine Wand gelehnt schläft. Corian macht Krel unsichtbar und klettert auf einen Baum, Krel stellt sich zwischen den beiden Ettins auf, und Belflin stürmt mit Auroleva zum schlafenden Ettin und versetzt ihm mit einem Schuss aus nächster Nähe den Todesstoss. Der zweite Ettin stürmt heran, wird von Krel gestellt und von den beiden Elfen aus der Entfernung beschossen – es dauert nicht lange, und er sinkt tot zu Boden.

Die Gruppe findet ca. viertausend Platin-, Gold- und Silbermünzen und ein Jademesser. Corian beschwört wieder Pferde aus den Ewigen Jagdgründen und mit den Schätzen beladen macht sich die Gruppe auf den Weg nach Twain. In der Ferne schleicht noch ein Löwe durch das Unterholz, aber die Gruppe denkt nur noch ans Nachtessen und ein warmes Bad.

Zur Feier des Sieges organisiert die Gruppe ein Festessen mit allen wichtigen Dorfbewohnern – selbst Taylor Kyle ist da! Nur Crus fehlt. Er scheint noch nicht so richtig beeindruckt zu sein.

Gäste:

• Die vier Helden, welche die Ettins erschlagen haben in alphabetischer Reihenfolge: Auroleva, Belflin, Corian, Krel
• Wachtmeister Duggin – ein Veteran der früheren Kämpfe gegen Hobgoblins und Orks, der viele Jahre in einem Fort in der Nähe von Pembrose stationiert war
• Angus Carl der Juwelier – ein Zwerg, der die frische Bergluft und das Sonnenlicht liebt
• Taylor Kyle – er mag zwar keine Abenteurer, aber wenn es um die Sicherheit (und die Steuern) von Twain und den Thorfax Minen geht, dann drückt er ein Auge zu
• Buston – ein Verkäufer von Reiseproviant, Trockenfrüchten, Konfitüre, eingesalzten Forellen und anderen Konserven
• Micky Coop – der Ledermacher der Region, verkauft Leder- und verstärkte Lederrüstungen sowie Stiefel und Handschuhe
• Tom Bobswood – ein Halbelf, der hier Wach- und Jagdhunde züchtet und auch immer wieder ein Pferd zu verkaufen hat.
• Rodin – ein etwas dicklicher Zwerg, eindeutig gröberes Kaliber als Angus; er ist der Schmied hier im Dorf, verträgt sich viel besser mit den Minenarbeitern, kann aber auch Rüstungen reparieren.

Ein Bankett für 11 Personen kostet eigentlich 110 Goldmünzen; weil es hier auf dem Land aber nicht ganz so erste Klasse ist, nur 100 Goldmünzen.

Bezüglich Larin Karr sind die versammelten Notablen der Meinung, dass der Geist eines Dunkelelfzauberers die Gegend unsicher mache und dass unter dem Tal sicherlich ein fantastischer Schatz zu finden sei. Die Geschichte vom roten Drachen halten sie für ein Gerücht, mit dem die Flösser und Wachen sich ein besseres Gehalt erschleichen wollen. Was die Insekten in Kuhgrösse anbelangt, erfährt die Gruppe, dass diese gemeinhin als Ankeghs bezeichnet werden und Säure spucken können.

Belflin arrangiert, dass Tom Bobswood seinem Pferd das Reiten beibringt.

25. Juni

Die Gruppe kehrt zurück zum verlassenen Dorf und steigt mit einem Seil hinab in die Tunnels der Ankeghs. Corian zaubert Licht und Magische Rüstung, Auroleva und Belflin zaubern Schutz vor Energie und schützen sich vor Säureangriffen. So vorbereitet werden die Tunnel erforscht. An einer besonders engen Stelle werden vier Ankeghs einer nach dem anderen regelrecht dahingeschlachtet. Das Höhlensystem wird erforscht, ein paar Schätze werden gefunden, und die Gruppe steigt wieder ans Tageslicht. Krel hat schon unten im Höhlensystem das Gefühlt gehabt, er höre einen Löwen herumschleichen, und so ist die Gruppe vorbereitet als sie ins Freie tritt. Tatsächlich: An einem anderen Tunnelingang liegt eine Raubkatze auf der Lauer. Wieder entbrennt ein Kampf, und wieder hat die Raubkatze keine Chance.

Eines der Gebäude verfügt über eine Treppe, die hinab zu einer Türe führt, die fast vollständig von Geröll verdeckt ist. Die Gruppe beginnt die Türe freizulegen und Krel schlägt sie schlussendlich ein. Dahinter folgt ein Raum mit vier Steinzylindern, deren Inneres von einem Ölfilm bedeckt ist. Was hier wohl drinnen war? Bei der Untersuchung entdecken die zwei Elfen eine geheime Falltüre, die zu einem Kriechgang führt, der im Bogen zu einem Zimmer ganz in der Nähe führt. Krel kriecht voraus, Belflin hinterher. Als Krel die Falltüre am anderen Ende öffnet, sieht er drei steinerne Sarkophage und zwei dunkle Gestalten in schwarzen Mänteln mit rot leuchtenden Augen, die sich auf ihn zu bewegen. Hastig schliesst er die Falltüre wieder, und die beiden robben so schnell es geht rückwärts aus dem engen Gang. Das ging ja nochmal gut!

Im nächsten Gebäude führt ein Gang zu einem Zimmer, in dem zwei riesige Hirschkäfer ein Nest gebaut haben. Auch diese Insekten werden von der Gruppe angegriffen. Doch was keiner geahnt hat: Die Hirschkäfer sind ziemlich gefährlich!! Sie trampeln über die Gruppe, nehmen Krel in die Zange, und Chaos bricht aus. Am Ende ist ein Käfer tot, und der sterbende Krel wird vom zweiten Käfer ins Nest gezogen. Die anderen haben sich in Sicherheit gebracht. Verzweifelt wird ein Plan ausgeheckt. Die Elfen sollen draussen Lärm machen und den Käfer ablenken, wärend Corian sich unsichtbar macht, ins Käfernest steigt, Krel mit einem Zaubertrank heilt, den dieser auf sich tragen soll, und ihn dann ebenfalls unsichtbar machen. Wenn alles klappt, können sie dann beide fliehen. Und so geschieht es auch. Einer der Käfer überlebt die Gruppe, und Krel überlebt die Käfer.

26. Juni & 27. Juni

Die Gruppe verbringt zwei Tage bei Felix und Penelope Wurst im Gasthof zum Wildsauschädel in Twain und geniesst das laue Sommerwetter. Heilung ist angesagt…

Morgen will die Gruppe mit Crus reden…

## XP

Überwundene Gefahren:

• Ankeghs: 4 × CR 3
• Riesiger Hirschkäfer: CR 4
• Ettin + schlafender Ettin: 1½ × CR 5
• Löwen: 2 × CR 5

Stufe 5: 4 × 750 + 1000 + 3½ × 1500 = 9250 ⇒ 2312 pro Person

Corian
11713 + 2312 = 14025 (Sor-5)
Auroleva
11604 + 2312 = 13916 (Drd-2/Clr-3)
Belflin
11368 + 50 + 2312 + 50 = 13780 (Rng-5)
Krel
10000 + 2312 = 12312 (Brb-5)

1½??! How stingy is that?! After all that trying-to-be-nice, deer hunting, fire-lighting, and then getting knocked over the head for my efforts, we get one-and-a-half XP. I wonder, if we’d waited for them to sleep, snuck in and murdered them both while they snored, would we also have only received the XP for one? Huh? Huh?

– Marco 2007-10-08 13:18 UTC

Totally. You’d be getting XP for a CR 1 monster, obviously. And a 10% XP penalty for acting out of your alignment. Or something. Now you’ll appreciate how lenient I am.

I will concede that you deserve an extra scoop of XP for going your efforts over and beyond the call of elvish duty.

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-08 15:50 UTC

Huh. I must have missed that part in the DMG.

We can have the alignment argument once we’ve resolved the ‘Offensive Act’ debate.

– Anonymous 2007-10-09 06:17 UTC

# 2007-10-09 Goole Mail Spam

I switched to GMail a long time ago because I felt that GMail had superior anti spam measures in place. These days I’m not so sure. I have less mail in my Spam box (4065 right now), and yet I have to manually mark about a dozen mails as spam every day. Are other users poisoning the spam filters? Maybe inactive accounts gathering spam negatively affect the filters…

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Comments on 2007-10-09 Goole Mail Spam

I find that too. I think the evil spam zombies are getting clever, that’s all.

Give it time and gmail with fix that. Until next time, of course.

greywulf 2007-10-10 12:08 UTC

I’ using gmx and are very happy with it. SPAMs only at the beginning and in the last couple of months N O N E !!! Maybe I’m just not using the mail enough…

– Belfin 2007-10-11 01:34 UTC

Yeah, my email address is all over Usenet – and has been since 2003.

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-11 09:15 UTC

# 2007-10-10 Copper is still my hero

Shamus Young had a post about the web comics he reads and one of them is Copper. What can I say?

Best. Comic. Evahr.

The Copper comicsw just give me warm fuzzy feelings.

I also liked the Copper tutorial with screenshots and all that.

Looking at the BoltCity site and at the Flight site I decided on a whim to order Flight 3 & 4. I read the comic anthology Flight 2 back in spring 2005.

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# 2007-10-10 Die Dolmetscherin

I liked The Interpreter (2005).

Der Film hat interessante Kamera: Licht und Dunkel, Farben – hat mir sehr gefallen. Ein Blick auf IMDB zeigt, dass Darius Khondji auch für die Kamera in anderen Filme wie Delikatessen zuständig war. Mir gefällt Nicole Kidman sehr; Szenen in denen die Dialoge eigentlich nur aus Gesprächsfragmenten bestehen, und eine Beziehung, die sehr gekünstelt wirkt, werden durch ihre Körpersprache und ihren Ausdruck gerettet. Wirkt der Film im ersten Moment also noch sehr holprig, stellt sich mit der Zeit ein Gefühl ähnlich wie in Lost in Translation (2003) ein.

Empfohlen.

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# 2007-10-10 New Edition Not So Hot

Today I listened to the latest D&D podcast – somehow I was not convinced. I’m not convinced monsters will be easier to pick (somehow that has never been much of a problem for me), I don’t think monsters will be easier to run (they do mention roles like skirmisher or controller, but I don’t see how that is going to make the monster easier to run), I don’t think the monsters will be more interesting (they mention that they want to focus on providing the right mechanics to the fluff, eg. fighting as a pack for Gnolls – but they fail to dispell my suspicion that this will make the monsters harder to run), and finally the “test” at the end resulted in some weird monster mixes that I’d never use together (owlbear, quickling, and satyr!?).

I think that for the moment I’ll continue playing 3rd ed. by the book, I’ll plan on sticking with 3rd ed., and I’ll think of a systematic collection of house rules to use for future games. A page on this site where I’ll put the rule, and a link supporting the decision. And mostly I’ll be looking for stuff to leave out.

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Comments on 2007-10-10 New Edition Not So Hot

Sounds to me a bit like the DnD equivalent of Vista.

– Marco 2007-10-11 18:45 UTC

I agree with Marco. We’re already hearing phrases like “synergy of technologies” creep into the designers’s blogs. sigh.

It’s all coming across as just a little too over-engineered to me. Fun has left the building.

greywulf 2007-10-12 10:19 UTC

Wasn’t that one of the main criticisms aimed at 3rd ed. – overengineering? With all the rules for monster building, encounter levels and all that, it certainly seemed overengineered to me… As far as I can tell, there’s no significant benefit of challenge rating and encounter levels over looking at hit dice and winging it… So they’re fixing a part of the game I’ve been more or less ignoring anyway when I wrote my own stuff. And I cannot imagine professional adventure writers feeling more bound by the recommendations than other people. The purpose of those recommendations was – I think – to speed up adventure writing. And it did not do that for me, thus I feel like the effort is spent in the wrong place. As far as I am concerned, they should concentrate on taking stuff away. Less abilities per monster, less spells per monster, less rules for combat (scrap half the grappling rules, unify grappling, tripping, disarming and sundering), less dice rolling (spell resistance, concealment, invisibility, saving throws), less rules for movement. I still like this passage in the 2nd ed. Player’s Handbook: “Since a round is roughly a minute long, it should be easy for a character to move just about anywhere he wants during the course of the round.” – p. 96. (Not that I’m suggesting that the 2nd ed. was always better.)

I really need to write a page on my suggested houserules. If only I knew somebody who had already done all the work for me…

I just read Our first look at 4e stats! by Mike Hensley. It changes a few things. Perhaps the way that saves are no longer a bonus but a target will in fact get rid of a number. I guess the DM is no longer assigning both a DC and granting a circumstance modifier. This is something which always irritated me. Similarly, when you roll your dice you always attack. Right now, if you attack and cast a spell, then the defender gets to roll. If you attack and wield a weapon, then the attacker gets to roll. This is a similar improvement like the change to AC from 2nd ed. to 3rd ed.

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-12

I keep swinging back and forth over 4E; for every one thing I hear about it that I don’t like, there’s another thing which I do. The 4e stats look fantastic to me overall though - which is great!

The only downer I can see is the use of Squares as a unit of measurement, rather than giving real-world units. That was inevitable though, but still might only be because of the limited space on the card. We’ll see.

greywulf 2007-10-15 15:58 UTC

# 2007-10-11 Incremental Indexing

I’m sure there’s a better word for it. What I’ve implemented for Oddmuse’s Indexed Search module is the following:

Until now, indexed search would only know about pages that had been indexed, and indexing is a lengthy process that goes through all pages. That’s why searches never returned any pages written in the last few hours. They were not yet indexed. The new revision of the module adds another index: Whenever a page is saved, it reindexes all the pages changed since the last big reindexing.

I was surprised to learn that incremental updating of a full text index is not “state of the art”. I googled around for a lightweight fulltext indexing library and found Sphinx.

There’s a frequent situation when the total dataset is too big to be reindexed from scratch often, but the amount of new records is rather small. Example: a forum with a 1,000,000 archived posts, but only 1,000 new posts per day.
In this case, “live” (almost real time) index updates could be implemented using so called “main+delta” scheme.
The idea is to set up two sources and two indexes, with one “main” index for the data which only changes rarely (if ever), and one “delta” for the new documents. In the example above, 1,000,000 archived posts would go to the main index, and newly inserted 1,000 posts/day would go to the delta index. Delta index could then be reindexed very frequently, and the documents can be made available to search in a matter of minutes. – Sphinx manual, 3.8. Live index updates

Same problem, same solution. Since I already know Search::FreeText, I decided to implement the same strategy using the search enging I already know.

For now I have it installed for this site only. There’s still some debugging to do!

And of course I’m curious to see how fast this reindexing after every save is going to be. That might turn out to be a killer… Currently I’ve configured the debug action to show which pages Oddmuse considers to be “new” and will therefore reindex on every edit: Self:action=debug.

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It seems to work. I’ve just created 2007-10-13 Skills which has been tagged with the RPG tag, and it’s not listed on the Diary front page (which has a journal that excludes all RPG pages). Great!

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-14 00:14 UTC

# 2007-10-11 Terminal.app, SSH, and GNU Screen

I used to have a problem:

1. Start Terminal.app on your Mac 10.3.9 (not sure whether the version makes a differences)
2. Connect to a GNU/Linux machine using SSH
3. Start GNU screen
4. Notice how backspace stops working

Within Emacs, the solution is easy. Just add the following to your /.emacs:

    (global-set-key (kbd "<deletechar>") 'backward-delete-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "ESC <deletechar>") 'backward-kill-word)

But within Bash, the solution still eludes me. For a moment I thought I just needed the following in my /.inputrc:

    Del: backward-delete-character
Meta-Del: backward-kill-word

But it had no effect. Some googling found a reference to od -c. Exactly what I was looking for! It printed an ominous ^[[3~ when I hit the Backspace key.

And thus the solution:

    "\e[3~": backward-delete-char
"\e\e[3~": backward-kill-word

Yay!!

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# 2007-10-12 Shogun

I finished Shogun by James Clavell at last. Marco had recommended it a long time ago while we were talking about the Japan inspired Kitsunemori campaign we were playing in. I had even proposed it for my BookClub. [1] But over a thousand pages remained to be read… I liked it! I felt that as a book it worked even better than the two Eiji Yoshikawa books: Taiko and Musashi.

Recommended.

I wonder how historically accurate it is. For more info, check Wikipedia: Shōgun (novel).

And I don’t like unhappy love stories. Yeah. A romantic at heart.

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# 2007-10-12 Usability Loosers

I decided to renew my Xbox Live account. My credit card had expired. Pick the gamer card, account management, membership, payment options… And I ended in a sort of loop: I could redeem codes which I did not have, add a card (which I tried to do but at the very end the system refused it because “it already existed”) and look at my existing credit card. Only after having wasted enough time did I realize that on the screen where it shows you the card you can pick payment options if you want to edit the card, and that’s on the blue button. Everything else is on the green (select) or red button (back).

1. Don’t just discard the new card even if it uses the same number as the existing one. Just use the information to update the existing info.
2. Updating the expiry date of a credit card is hopefully going to be a common procedure. Make it more obvious.
3. Don’t switch UI style in the middle of an operation: Don’t use a menu at first where the user has to use up, down, and select, and then switch to a menu where the user has to hit the appropriate button. Stick to the menu.

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# 2007-10-13 Skills

I’ve been thinking about skills, yesterday.

• I find cross-class skills frustrating as a player. They thwart my ambition in creating curious and interesting characters. I also found they complicated skill-point checking. Away!
• Maxing out your skills is quick and easy, but inflexible. Use a different abstraction to get rid of the inflexibility. In other words: The number of skills you know is fixed, and the effective skill rank is equivalent to a maxed out skill, but every four levels you gain another skill.
• Variable skill points are a mess. Maybe Rogues need lots of skill points because they are not smart and still need to learn a lot of skills. Maybe Wizards are smart and get few skill points so that it balances out. The solution is to change the application of the various skills. Give everybody the same number of skills (independent of intelligence and class), and make typical rogue skills very broad in application. Keep the skills for other classes rather specific (physical and knowledge skills in particular).
• Having characters that can Climb but not Swim etc. are fun, thus there is no drawback in not unifying these skills.
• Balance, Jump, and Tumble → Acrobatics. These skills have seen little use in my games.
• There should be enough skills to require rogues to specialize and enough Knowledge skills to require wizards to specialize.
• Gather Information, Search, Spot and Listen → Perception. This is the skill to use for rogues that want to specialize in scouting.
• Hide and Move Silently → Sneak. This is the skill to use for rogues that want to specialize in breaking in and infiltrating.
• Sleight of Hand, Forgery, and Disguise → Trickery. This is the skill to use for rogues that want to specialize in spying and stealing.
• Open Lock, Disable Device, Use Magic Device → Traps. This is also the skill to use if you want to build traps.
• Get rid of Use Rope and Escape Artist. We rarely use them and we find that it doesn’t enrich the game. Use Trickery vs. Perception if you want to do an escape scene.
• Craft, Profession, Spellcraft, and Decipher Script → Knowledge. In my games most Knowledge skills have been used again and again. And I’ve noticed a problem with my fighter who wants to be a map-maker. Is it really necessary to have two separate skills, Craft (map) and Knowledge (geography)? I don’t think so.
• Intelligence remains important because the Knowledge skills remain important, and they use Intelligence as a modifier.
• Appraise, Concentration, Heal and Survival sound interesting in theory but turned out to be boring for the game. Use Perception if you have the Track feat. Use an appropriate Knowledge skill for healing, if you need it – Knowledge (medicine), for example.
• Bluff, Handle Animal, Sense Motive, and Diplomacy → Persuasion. Use opposed persuasion rolls to resolve conflict peacefully.

What follows is the list of skills I want to use. Notice that I changed Swim from Str to Con, and that Forgery no longer requires Int since Trickery is just Dex. Pet peeves…

• Climb (Str)
• Ride (Dex)
• Swim (Con)
• Acrobatics (Dex)
• Perception (Wis)
• Sneak (Dex)
• Trickery (Dex)
• Traps (Dex)
• Persuasion (Cha)
• Knowledge (Int) with subtypes arcana, religion, planes, history, nature, dungeoneering, geography, medicine, and many more for various specific cities, countries, races, or whatever takes you players’ fancy

As you can see, Knowledge subtypes is what most people will be gaining at the end. And I don’t mind.

Each character starts the game with two skills. Every four levels you gain a skill.

At level eight, a typical fighter would have Climb, Ride, Swim, and Acrobatics. A typical level eight rogue would have Perception, Sneak, Trickery, and Traps. A typical level eight cleric might have Persuasion, Knowledge (religion), Knowledge (planes), Knowledge (history). A typical level eight wizward might have Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (planes), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (alchemy).

Making a more unusual character will be no problem, however: A level eight fighter having Climb, Ride, Perception, and Knowledge (cartography) is easy to do.

It’s not as simple as the M20 system which my players did not like. But it’s simpler than the default D&D 3.5 system. I’ll have to give it a try one day.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll do away with the +3 for maxed out skills. Thus, having a skill trained basically allows you to do a d20 + level + ability modifier check.

I’m not going to introduce any bonus for untrained skills. Just use a d20 + ability modifier for your roll…

I should do a little cross-checking with Justin Alexander’s essay on skills in D&D, D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations.

Update: Actually Justin Alexander wrote an essay arguing against a simplification: 4th Edition — Thoughts on Skills. He seems to have a point…

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Interesting thoughts about skills. I’ve generally given out more skill points in my own campaigns, and eliminated cross-class skills entirely, but I can see the advantages of eliminating the skill point system entirely.

However, having the large disparity between trained (d20 + level + ability mod) and untrained (d20 + ability mod) means that, once you reach mid-to-high levels, a character is either at the pinnacle of ability for a skill (for his level) or effectively worthless. In the current system, you could be very competent in a few skills, have average ability in a few more, so the drop-off isn’t as marked. The new Star Wars Saga Edition rules supposedly give you d20 + half level + ability mod in all untrained skills (however, some skills still can only be used trained, or have usages that only trained individuals can access), +5 if you are trained, +5 if you have Skill Focus. Maybe under your system, you could introduce the idea of specialization (either through feats, class abilities, or when you gain a new trained skill, also add a specialization), and give a base d20 + half level + mod for untrained skills. You do lose some verisimilitude (a 20th level bookish wizard is a better climber than a strapping 5th level ranger).

Perhaps a middle ground is to introduce a middle ground: trained, dilettante, and untrained skills. Trained skills gain your level + ability mod; dilettante skills gain 1/2 level + mod; untrained rely on just your mod.

The only other problem I see is with rogues (and to a lesser extent bards and rangers). Int is not usually their highest stat, but it usually ranks 2 or 3, meaning they have at least 50% more skill points than wizards (who only get 6/level with an 18 Int) and twice as many as other classes. This is, in many ways, a key feature of rogues, and would take a hit in your proposed system.

But I think you are definitely heading in a great direction.

Yeah, I’ve been looking at the Star Wars Saga skill system, and I’m not sure I like how you’re getting better and better with your untrained skills. (You’re welcome to take a look if you’re interested.) Unfortunately I can’t make an informed decision because I have so little experience with high level games. “At the pinnacle of ability for a skill […] or effectively worthless” – that doesn’t sound too bad to me. I think I like it!

As for the “skill monkey” taking a hit: My hope is that the broad application of the rogue skills makes up for the perceived reduction of skill points. Perception, Sneak, Trickery, Traps, Persuasion. Basically by picking four out of these five for your level eight rogue you will be an awesome rogue. I’m claiming this is equivalent to using the d20 rules. You’d maximize 11 skills (assuming Int 16 or 17) and pick them from the following list of 17 skills: Bluff, Sense Motive, Use Rope, Escape Artist, Tumble, Gather Information, Search, Spot, Listen, Hide, Move Silently, Sleight of Hand, Forgery, Disguise, Open Lock, Disable Device, Use Magic Device… You’d cover less ground in d20. So I’m not sure rogues will in fact loose. Obviously if other classes decide to pick rogue skills they’ll make just as great spies and thieves. As far as I’m concerned, however, that’s ok. They have to sacrifice their own typical physical or knowledge skills.

At level 20 a wizard will have 3 + 5 (one at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20) = eight skills maximized (“trained”) for example. He’s free to pick Climb, Ride, Swim, Perception, Sneak, Trickery, Persuasion, and Knowledge (nature) if he wants to play a pictish shaman warrior. And he’ll be able to climb and ride like a ranger. Just don’t ask him about the books he has read.

I’m not sure how another of my changes will turn out: Using the d20 rules, the number of skills you can maximize never changes. My system would allow characters to learn more and more tricks. I’m assuming people will learn new Knowledge skills because these have seen so much use (aside from Listen & Spot). Obviously some playtesting is required.

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-16 14:26 UTC

I agree that getting better at untrained skills just because you level doesn’t really jive with my sensibilities either (though this is a heroic game; regardless of actual physical ability or skill, don’t heroes always seem to outshine the normal people?). The problem with introducing new skills every four levels is that a character goes from being useless in a skill to suddenly being a master (for that level). In some cases, not a big deal; in other cases, it means you might have to suffer through several levels before your character can even consider doing things. In the core rules, your example rogue is about as good as he can be (for his level) in 11 skills throughout his career. In many ways I think your system is a lot better and more elegant, but it creates a very stepwise progression in character capability. I will say that your proposed system can really allow players and DMs to find creative uses for skills, since each skill is so broadly defined, and I think that is a great benefit (because it inserts DM judgment back into the equation, which I think I like).

At high levels, in my experience, the problem becomes one of specialization. To challenge the character with max ranks in X skill (X typically being things like Listen, Spot, Search, Hide, and/or Move Silently, but sometimes also things like Balance, Climb, Jump, and Swim), the DM has to craft challenging situations and set DCs so high as to put it effectively out of reach for the remainder of the party. Now, the DM can also decide, “This player has invested a lot of resources in being awesome at skill X. So let that character auto-succeed, and set the DC to give the rest of the party a fighting chance.” But that offends my DM sensibilities--TANSTAAFL and all that. That is why I’d like to see a slightly less binary system than untrained/trained skills (and, for that matter, the difference between good and bad saving throw progressions, but that is another day).

# 2007-10-14 Persepolis

We went to see Persepolis (2007). This is the movie based on the comic Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – growing up as a girl in Teheran, Vienna, and Paris. Similar in style to other biographic and autobiographic comics like Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa terrible things are told through the eyes of a child. In a way, this makes it easier to bear. The movie’s style is an excellent transposition of the comic’s original naïve style and supports the child perspective very well.

Recommended – both as a good story and as an interesting example of media change. This is something I usually view with a lot of scepticism. It was, after all, my main criticism towards The Lord of the Rings. I felt that a story well told in a book does not necessarily make a good movie, because tempo varies, books need lots of details, where as movies need lots of dialog. But BooksToMovies worked quite well for Persepolis.

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If you download the new Radiohead album the price you want to pay is up to you. I decided to pay 1£ and was charged an additional 0.45£ for the credit card company. Credit cards are lousy for MicroPayment.

Now that I’m seeing this extra charge for the first time (usually the merchant pays this charge and hides it from customers), I wonder how PayPal does it. After all, my PayPal account doesn’t have any money on it – it’s linked to the credit card, thus the charges must be at least as high as that. And yet, if I check the PayPal page on Fees it would seem that they charge around 32% instead of 45% for such small payments.

Anyway. I’m going to listen to that album now.

# 2007-10-14 Ragamuffins

“Evil cultists are abducting people and sacrificing them to an evil god who has two heads and tentacles for arms.” – just a rumor

Today is September 4, 680 years after the foundation of Cauldron.

Two more players joined the party: Stone the gaunt rogue “between jobs” and Wim the gnomish delver “entrepreneur”.

Wim is known for his clean-up jobs: Sewers, cellars, secret caves under your wine cellar, he has seen them all and disposed of rats, monstrous vermin and a kobold or two. It seems that he lives either close to Borg’s former shop, or that he worked for the Gorunn family before. And he has also worked with Zacharias’ father before: The undertaker is slightly risk-averse and likes his crypts to be undead-free with a money back guarantee. I guess the party liked him because he could read the gnomish runes they had found.

And gnomes seem to be well connected. They say that “Keygan Ghelve is one of the finest locksmiths in the world. Only a skilled rogue or spellcaster could bypass one of his locks without the proper key!” And Wim has connections to Skie Aldersun who runs Skie’s Treasury. Unfortunately she was unwilling to buy the grey bag of tricks for fear of the vanishing curse. Zach ended up using it. And as suspected, it was infected with the vanishing. At the beginning of the next session he gets to make his first DC 15 Fortitude save…

Unfortunately I don’t remember Stone’s connections to the party. I still need connections to two player characters and a backup/support character.

The party made a foray into Jazidrune on September 4 and another one on September 5. Three common raggamoffyns (Monster Manual II) were fought and bested. I wondered about the name of these creatures. There’s some more info on the Wikipedia page for Ragamuffin.

A broken and a whole drilling construct was found, and a new key to the gear doors was found as well. The choker remained out of sight.

The party noticed a certain lack of healing spells and decided to invest some gold in a half-charged Wand of Cure Light Wounds.

I think I know Aria’s family connection, now: She is related to the Aslaxin nobles; they run the Coy Nixie, her father owns vineyards in the surrounding hills, and a cousin of hers called Zachary Aslaxin II seems to have had some success with his own band of adventurers called “The Stormblades”. Apparently they cleared out a cave of kobolds or something of the sort.

## XP

Challenges overcome:

• Captured skulk + common ragamoffyn, CR 4
• Common ragamoffyn, 2 × CR 3
• The Vanishing, CR 2
Level 1 & 2
1350+2*900+600 ⇒ 3750 / 6 = 625 per person

Current XP:

Aria
1025 + 625 = 1650 (Clr-1/Ftr-1)
Borg
975 + 50 + 625 = 1650 (Ftr-2)
Fenyael
975 + 625 = 1600 (Sor-2)
Zacharias
975 + 625 = 1600 (Sor-2)
Stone
625 (Rog-1)
Wim
625 (Rgr-1)

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# 2007-10-16 ATC

How weird. I stumbled accross the term artist trading cards on JanneJalkanen’s blog. [1] See some artist trading cards on Flickr. It seems that they are little pieces of art that fit on a traditional business card. But unlike the GapingVoid “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards” these ATCs are not business cards in the sense that there is no contact information on them. Strangely enough, they’re still traded. Just read some of the comments on Flickr.

Weird & wonderful.

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# 2007-10-16 Burning Wheel

I got my Burning Wheel books: Fantasy Roleplaying System (the revised rules), Character Burner (the revised details on how to create character background), and The Blossoms Are Falling (the new Heian era Japan setting book) in the mail today. I was pleasantly surprised to see that each book is a small A5 book with close to 300 pages. That seems manageable enough! Unfortunately I discovered that I will probably need the Monster Burner for monsters if I want to run a campaign involving lots of standard fantasy monsters.

I started to read the first few pages of the rules, and I read the extended example given at the end.

These rules are crunchy.

Yikes. I don’t like crunchy!

Well, in some ways it’s interesting: Luke Crane’s rules provide combat full of tactical options without the use of miniatures and battlemaps. This is done by scripting your actions: Write down what you’re going to do: Withdraw, Close, Maintain, Strike, Cast, Grapple, and so on. Each exchange is divided into three volleys. You distribute the number of actions you have per exchange. If you have four actions, one of the three volleys will have two of your actions, the other two volleys will have one action each.

In a way that reminds me of the combat sequence in AD&D 2nd ed. – 1. DM decides what NPCs and monsters do. 2. Players indicate what their characters will do. 3. Initiative is rolled. 4. Attacks are made in order of initiative. The result is a completely different set of tactical choices.

But back the Burning Wheel. Here’s an example exchange:

 Volley 1 Volley 2 Volley 3 Action 1: Strike Action 1: Avoid Action 1: Strike — Action 2: Push —

The actions at your disposal are described in the book. The description will tell you which actions oppose each other and call for tests. The net effect seems to be that you get an advantage for outguessing your opponent. There are interesting choices to be made, but they don’t require a battlemap.

There are 12 pages on ranged combat, 31 pages on melee combat, 11 pages on weapons, 10 pages on armor and shields, and 15 pages on injury. That’s a lot of combat rules!

To be fair, there’s also the option of just doing opposed rolls. Most of my players would cry out for the detailed rules as soon as they’re on the loosing end, however. ;)

So, this is the game with the many awards and reviews. What should I make of it? I’m interested in reading up on Luke’s magic system, and on his cooperative campaign design. The Character Burner is also interesting: You characters begin the game with lots of past experience. I guess it’s similar to the Traveller RPG. Check out Traveller for the confusion that is called Traveller. Anyway. I heard it was one of the games where you character could die or be mutilated during character generation. It seems as if the players and the game master get together, decide upon a campaign, create interesting and complex characters, and spend quite some time setting the stage for the game itself. This is what I liked, this is why I ordered the books.

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# 2007-10-17 PDF Manipulation

With my interest in RPG PDF publishing, I now own a significant number of PDF files. Usually these PDF files have background images, fancy borders, tons of art, and some are scans where the visible text is the scanned text. A bummer to print! Some people ask for PDF files that are “unlocked” (stupid DRM restrictions) with various layers that can be enabled and disabled. What I’d love is a command line command that takes a PDF file, splits it into pages, pipes these pages through some converters, and reassembles a PDF file. Even if I don’t print a PDF, I find it hard to read with background graphics and/or text that is not black. Apple’s Preview.app is too dumb to offer the appropriate switches while I try to read the PDF files. And Acrobat Reader has so many damn options I can’t even figure out whether it can do it or not.

So I’m looking at pdftk, mbtPdfAsm, the power of a real shell, and I wonder what to do. The greatest thing to do would be to use inkscape to create SVG files based on these scans, and use those! Then the scanned text would be zoomable without decaying into pixels.

For now, however, I will try to split the PDF file into single pages and use ImageMagick to increase the contrast.

I hate it when a Mac comes without gs(1). Am I embarking on another endless compile, download, configure cycle?

Unfortunately it seems as if compiling and installing Ghostscript worked without a problem but I get tons of errors when I try to use convert pg_0010.pdf new_pg_0010.pdf. Damn!

   **** Warning:  File has an invalid xref entry:  2.  Rebuilding xref table.
Error: /invalidfont in /findfont
Operand stack:
--dict:9/18(L)--   F10   1   --dict:8/8(L)--   --dict:8/8(L)--   TimesNewRomanPSMT   --dict:13/13(L)--   Times-Roman   Times-Roman
Execution stack: […]
Dictionary stack: […]
Current allocation mode is local
Last OS error: 2
GPL Ghostscript 8.60: Unrecoverable error, exit code 1
convert: Postscript delegate failed pg_0010.pdf'.
convert: missing an image filename new_pg_0010.pdf'.


I wonder what this means. I don’t have Times-Roman on my Mac? I guess it’s true because all I have is Times New Roman according to my Font Book.app… Hm.

The strange thing is that the source PDF doesn’t even specify Times-Roman!

8 matches for "Times" in buffer: pg_0010.pdf
631:<</FontName /TimesNewRomanPSMT
647:<</BaseFont /TimesNewRomanPSMT
712:<</FontName /TimesNewRomanPS-ItalicMT
728:<</BaseFont /TimesNewRomanPS-ItalicMT
739:<</FontName /TimesNewRomanPS-BoldMT
755:<</BaseFont /TimesNewRomanPS-BoldMT
766:<</FontName /TimesNewRomanPS-BoldItalicMT
782:<</BaseFont /TimesNewRomanPS-BoldItalicMT


So, I’m assuming a library somewhere that refers to the font…

Pyrobombus:/opt/local/lib/ImageMagick-6.2.7/config alex$grep Times * type-ghostscript.xml: name="Times-Roman" […]  Aahhh… Maybe if I change the fonts in this file? Unfortunately, commenting out the suspicious element did nothing to improve the situation. Argh. Hm. pdf2ps(1) is having the exact same problem. And this tool was installed with Ghostscript just now. Thus, this must be independent from my existing ImageMagick installation. Hm. Grrrr. One hour wasted. And on my iBook, I get a warning but it works. Argh! iBook AFPL Ghostscript 8.54 (2006-05-17) Mac Mini GPL Ghostscript 8.60 Ok, so I used pdftk to split the PDF into single pages, and I’m using convert(1) as follows:  convert -sigmoidal-contrast 10,70% pg_0010.pdf pg_0010n.pdf This does in fact increase the contrast, but it turns out the fuzzy light gray the scanner adds to the letters is helping me read the text. The image with high contrast is in fact more difficult to read. Damn. I need some more experimenting.  convert -black-threshold 70% pg_0010.pdf pg_0010n.pdf This gives even worse results. I’m currently lookingat -contrast 6,80% and the resulting PDF is not too bad. The only thing that has seriously deteriorated is readability. Now that I look at the pixels, the problem seems to be JPEG artifacts or something similar. As if the image had been decoded and recoded using terrible quality settings. And -quality 100 seem to have no effect. Perhaps the artifacts are present in the source and exacerbate the problem? I tried using -gaussian-blur 1x1 but the result was terrible. -despeckle looks much better, but the resulting PDF still looks as if the image resolution deteriorated by a factor of two.  convert -sigmoidal-contrast 10,80% -resample 200 -despeckle pg_0010.pdf pg_0010n.pdf Using a -resample 200 seems to improve the situation. It’s actually pretty close to what I thought would improve readability. But it turns out that it doesn’t. I’m stumped. Out of ideas. Update: It seems that I just need to install the Ghostscript fonts. And they are not distributed with the source package. In fact, there’s a link in the docs to a FTP server I cannot connect to. But Google leads me to a different SourceForge project: Ghostscript fonts. Tags: Comments on 2007-10-17 PDF Manipulation Maybe something like pdftoipe could help. I haven’t used pdftoipe or ipe, but pdftoipe converts a PDF file to a XML file readable by Ipe. Ipe is a drawing editor. Anyways, transforming a pdf to xml may be a first good step. Another program to manipulate pdf’s is pdfedit. – deusmax 2007-11-09 22:15 UTC Hm, that sounds interesting… Do you have an URL for it? AlexSchroeder 2007-11-09 22:58 UTC Add Comment # 2007-10-18 Out Of Disk Space Today I was trying use ImageMagick on a 200 page PDF file using the new ghostwrite setup [1]. It started churning away and I started uploading the last images for my Japan 2007 holidays to Flickr. And suddenly the Mac Mini harddisk was full. Ouch. I started deleting some stuff here and there, I emptied my trash, I emptied Claudia’s trash, and now we’re back to 6.51 GB of free space. One of the things I deleted were the MacPorts stuff in /opt/local. I had installed precompiled ImageMagick binaries and uninstalled MacPorts port. But the binaries did not disappear from /opt/local. I checked who provided the files, and got ImageMagick. I tried to uninstall it again, and the ports system refused, claiming it was already uninstalled. Gah! Away it goes! Now I’m trying to run my Oddmuse tests. And I’m getting this error: Can't load '/Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level/auto/XML/LibXML/Common/Common.bundle' for module XML::LibXML::Common: dlopen(/Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level/auto/XML/LibXML/Common/Common.bundle, 1): Library not loaded: /opt/local/lib/libiconv.2.dylib Referenced from: /Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level/auto/XML/LibXML/Common/Common.bundle Reason: Incompatible library version: Common.bundle requires version 6.0.0 or later, but libiconv.2.dylib provides version 5.0.0 at /System/Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level/DynaLoader.pm line 230. at /Library/Perl/5.8.6/darwin-thread-multi-2level/XML/LibXML.pm line 12  Noooo… When I start the CPAN shell and run r (“reinstall recommendations”), I get a list of 87 packages and a note saying “164 installed modules have no parseable version number”. Yikes! And when I run the CPAN shell without using sudo, I get all sorts of errors regarding permissions. I searched my own blog and found a note telling me to o conf make_install_make_command "sudo make" [[[2]]] – that’s what the blog is for, hehe! While surfing the web I came across CPANPLUS… Uh oh! What now? And when I try to install CPANPLUS, I see instructions to run the following in the build directory… Yikes, is this worth it? $ /usr/bin/perl bin/cpanp-boxed -s selfupdate dependencies
$/usr/bin/perl bin/cpanp-boxed -s selfupdate enabled_features Bad idea… When all is said and done, and I try to run perl -MCPANPLUS -e shell I get the following: “[ERROR] Could not find the ‘cpanp-run-perl’ binary in your path--this may be a problem. Please locate this program and set your ‘perlwrapper’ config entry to its path.” Oh well… Where was I? Right. Reinstalling XML::LibXML::Common because it is linked with a version of libiconv I deleted yesterday… Sigh. Ok, I force install XML::LibXML::Common. Strangely enough it still runs make install instead of sudo make install even if the option is set correctly. I run sudo make install from the build directory (~/.cpan/build/XML-LibXML-Common-0.13). Then I install XML::LibXML and finally the tests all pass. Same permission problem, but I ignore it for the moment. Later I found a solution to the permission problem: Upgrade CPAN itself and when asked for the build command, follow the sudo suggestion. And now I remember having gone through all this on my iBook a while ago. Hah! Tags: Add Comment # 2007-10-19 Ebay I’ve started bidding for Planescape material on Ebay.com; shipping to Switzerland is apparently often a problem. And the stuff ain’t cheap. I’ve resigned myself to paying around$30 for a boxed set plus about $20 for shipping. Gah! Update: It seems like I won three bids! • 2600 Planescape Campaign Setting Box Set • 2603 Planescape Planes of Chaos • 2615 Planescape Planes of Conflict I bought them for more or less CAD 30 each, and I’m expecting another CAD 20-30 for packaging & shipping. I am totally afraid of getting cheated. Oh and if my Monday group does end up on Celestia, I’ll need Planes of Law, too! Update: I looked at getting 2607 Planescape Planes of Law via Ebay. I bid up to USD 36 (knowing that shipping was going to cost me USD 26.40 + USD 10.15 for registration. Yikes. And I was outbid. Next I looked at some second hand bookshops… Amazon Marketplace, Alibris, AbeBooks… And I found a cheaper option on Abebooks! USD 36.99 + USD 19.50 for shipping – and that includes fast shipping (6-8 business days). Cool. Now that I know about the USPS rates I wonder how they manage to offer such low rates. They probably get better conditions for being a very good customer. Let’s just hope it works as expected. 2nd hand bookshops still rule. Buying was much less hassle than the auction stuff. Update: Oh no… I’m being trapped by the 2nd hand bookshop conspiracy! I was forced to order some more books: • Planar Handbook • Manual of the Planes • Lords of Madness I guess once I decided that I was going to spend money on 2nd edition material, I might as well buy some 3rd edition material, even though 4th edition is slated for May & June 2008. Update: Somebody is selling a complete Planescape collection on Ebay. It started at USD 200. I bowed out at USD 335. Last time I looked the price had reached USD 455. Wow! Update: The winning bid was USD 545.69. The seller said that he “was expecting more along the lines of$650-$800”. Obviously I did not know what I was getting into. Tags: Add Comment # 2007-10-19 Sandman I have been fascinated by the covers of The Sandman for years. Whenever I opened them, however, I was turned off. Not my style. A few weeks ago, a friend let me borrow Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House. I liked the idea, but it had too many sick ideas in it… Too much putrid flesh, child abuse, and psychopaths. Ugh! The comics have received high praise, but I still can’t recommend them. Tags: Comments on 2007-10-19 Sandman Ah, yes. They are definitely some dark and troubled themes in those comics. I felt the portrayal of those themes were well in context, but the themes do tend to lie on the borders of what people are comfortable dealing with. Gaiman doesn’t cover up the details and make it go away, and I like that. I particularly like the way he defines a world of dream and wonder that is devoid of that fairytale happy fluffy fairy crap that makes me sick. It’s ‘realistic’, as far as dreams go. To contradict your opinion I was gripped by the story. The only reason I put the first book down was because I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. The reason I put the second book down is because I finished it. – Marco 2007-10-21 22:40 UTC Add Comment # 2007-10-21 Lousy Rip The other day I was overcome with nostalgia and decided to rip all my Bruce Springsteen CDs so I could listen to all of them via iTunes on my stereo instead of having to switch CDs. I used to love Bruce Springsteen as a kid. So I spent some time ripping… And as I listen to them now I realize that some tracks have various breaks in them – a second of silence here or there. How could this happen? I know that if the CD is bad and you’re not trying to reread bad sectors you’ll end up with clicks in your tracks. But silence? Was my computer too busy while ripping? Damn. I’ll have to try and rip one of them again to see whether this is fixable. I blame iTunes. I ripped a CD again, and there were (different) silent moments in the one track I picked for testing. Grr. And when I listen to the CD on my stereo, no problem. What’s going on? In a sinister world where the big labels are trying to screw their customers, working together with Apple, I would surmise that they intentionally break CD ripping by iTunes. “Get the real tracks from the iTunes Store!?” Well, I think I’ll try and find a command-line tool to do rip CDs for me. Or maybe there’s something with a Mac interface? I’ll give Max a try. It interfaces with MusicBrainz, gives me decent encoding options, uses LAME. Time passes, and the tracks no longer seem to have the problem, as long as I don’t use the computer. W00t? When I start switching applications, I get these silent moments again. Am I stupid? Was this all a playback problem? I’ll have to listen to a few more CDs. 😟 Groan… Tags: Comments on 2007-10-21 Lousy Rip I’ve experienced this on a friend’s Windows machine with iTunes. It was caused by skipping I think. And when it skipped, iTunes would start a new track. The laptop also didn’t appreciate the heat resulting from running the CD-ROM drive and ripping, either. I just kept starting the ripping process over from where it messed up, and it eventually worked. AaronHawley 2007-10-22 12:47 UTC HI! Also es scheint, mein kommentar ist verschwunden . Ich versuche es also noch einmal… Zu rippen: rippe mal mit ezcddax. Dann das gespeicherte in itunes importieren. ezcddax arbeitet eigentlich sehr gut. War mal ein tipp von dir! Habe auch schon sehr viel gerippt: muss ca. 1700 auf der festplatte haben ! Podcast in itunes: der download ist ganz mies, funktioniert nicht! Aber mit “juice” geht es wunderbar: einfach und schnell. Auch da wieder, speichern, importieren, eine eigene wiedergabeliste machen, denn die sendungen werden leider nicht unter podcast gespeichert. Ganz toll, das hörbuch-system. Bin ja bei audible.de… Bin immer noch fan.. Bussis, mama – mum 2007-10-23 13:22 UTC Seltsam, mit dem Podcasts habe ich unter iTunes gar kein Problem. Meine Angst ist jetzt halt, dass unter den vielen CDs, die ich eingelesen habe, nun diverse mit “Fehlern” sind und ich diese so schnell nicht finden werde. So will gar kein rechtes Vertrauen in die Technik aufkommen. AlexSchroeder 2007-10-23 13:42 UTC Add Comment # 2007-10-24 Simpsonize I found a link to SimpsonizeMe on ChattyDM’s site [1]. It looks pretty amazing. And what’s even better: There is obviously some kind of “casual” software that can do (very rudimentary) analysis of the picture, choose appropriate elements from a library, and create a “simpsonized” image of you. And our mind is able to say “yes, they do in fact look similar!” I’m not sure what surprizes me more. And I always wonder: This kind of automatic image manipulation is always just a little bit beyond what I think I could do in my free time. Would I figure out a way to do it? Will I risk sinking days and weeks into such a project? I… don’t know. Obviously I’m not thinking about the big flash interface – just some kind of image processing command-line tool would be cool enough for me. Tags: Comments on 2007-10-24 Simpsonize a new sony camera detects faces - and shoots the picture when it detects a smile. – Chris 2007-10-25 12:36 UTC Add Comment # 2007-10-24 Whiterock Argh, mega-dungeons!! Do I hate them? Do I love them? I’ve never played in them! I think what I’m missing is a group willing to go from level 1 to 15 or more in a dungeon crawl… 😊 Tags: Comments on 2007-10-24 Whiterock I think I’d enjoying creating and playing a pure dungeon crawler character. Pure power gamer, mapped well in advance from 1st until 20th level, and completely proficient in converting living, breathing dungeon ecosystems into deserted tombs and silent spaces. sigh… if only I had the time. Eye of the Beholder is another one. It was adapted to a Neverwinter Nights addons. I played it once but never finished it. Was okay, too. – Marco 2007-10-24 21:27 UTC One thing is certain. We have enough D&D 3.5 material to last us a while. AlexSchroeder 2007-10-24 21:33 UTC There is always Undermountain I briefly ran parts of Tomb of Abysthor, but never really got into it. Dungeon crawling is great, so long as everyone understands what to expect (devious traps, annoying riddles, lots of wandering monsters) and has seriously min-maxed their characters, since they tend to be brutal. – Adrian 2007-10-25 07:22 UTC Hm, do you remember what the problem with Tomb of Abysthor was? I can imagine getting fed up with the spells and abilities from that Sword & Sorcery book. Other than that I have heard but good stuff about it. Perhaps the most important thing is to not run just Tomb of Abysthor but something else in parallel. AlexSchroeder 2007-10-25 19:46 UTC There are a couple of small things, like insanely dangerous encounters in the early parts of the dungeon, which are presumably for 2nd-3rd level characters (but this is supposed to be a pseudo-old school dungeon, so it is to be expected, and the DM is supposed to drop hints about not going near these areas). I guess I never got into the story or theme of the dungeon, but then again I was trying to use the module as a jumping off point for a campaign, rather than as a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. I might view it very differently as a player. – Adrian 2007-10-25 21:33 UTC Well, we probably have two years to spend on ShackledCity, so who knows what we’ll be doing by then… AlexSchroeder 2007-10-25 22:33 UTC Add Comment # 2007-10-26 PDF Madness So, you have two copies of a document. One of them contains an outline or bookmarks that you want to use for the other document. Except that maybe you also want to fix it up a bit. Basically it all boils down to this: 1. Extract bookmarks from an existing PDF document into a text file. 2. Edit bookmarks. 3. Apply bookmarks from the text file to an existing PDF document. Painful experimentation has led me to this: Use mbtPdfAsm. I also submitted this – in French! – to the mbtPdfAsm author → Editer des signets. First, get the outline:  mbtPdfAsm -mSource.pdf -gO > Outline.txt This will take the outline from Source.pdf and write it to Outline.txt. Edit the outline. The format is hard to read and hard to write. Here’s an example: 1 0 1 1 My Book 2 1 1 1 Front Cover 3 1 2 2 Credits 4 1 3 3 Contents  Edit at will, harr harr, then apply the new outline:  mbtPdfAsm -mSource.pdf -dResult.pdf -oOutline.txt This will take Source.pdf and Outline.txt creating Result.pdf. Clearly we need a program to be able to write a decent outline. ## outline-to-text.pl This is a Perl program to convert the outline produced by mbtPdfAsm into editable text. #!/usr/bin/perl while (<>) { my ($key, $parent,$no, $page,$title) = m/(\d+) (\d+) (\d+) (\d+) (.*)/;
next unless $key; print ' ' if$parent > 0;
print "$page$title\n";
}


Example use:

    perl ~/bin/outline-to-text.pl < Outline.txt > Editable.txt

The format of Editable.txt is as follows:

1. If the line starts with a page number, it’s a chapter
2. If the line is indented and starts with a page number, it’s a section
3. After the page number is a space
4. Everything after that is the title of the bookmark

Example:

1 My Book
1 Front Cover
2 Credits
3 Contents
4 My First Chapter
4 First Section
7 Second Section


We also need something to convert it back…

## text-to-outline.pl

This is a Perl program to convert the editable text described above into the kind of outline used by mbtPdfAsm.

#!/usr/bin/perl
my $id = 1; my ($chapter, $chapterno,$section);
while (<>) {
my ($indent,$page, $title) = m/([ \t]*)(\d+) (.*)/; next unless$page;
if (not $indent) {$chapter = $id;$chapterno++;
$section = 1; } print join(' ',$id++,
$indent ?$chapter : 0,
$indent ?$section++ : $chapterno,$page, \$title), "\n";
}


Example use:

    perl ~/bin/text-to-outline.pl < Editable.txt > Outline.txt

And it works!

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# 2007-10-26 Royal Mail Works After All

Greywulf’s package has arrived! Wrapped in plastic, with a sticker saying (in German) “This package from abroad was already damaged when it arrived. We’re sorry about that.” – Thanks for the extra wrapping. I the Swiss Post.

Boy, how long did this package take to get here?? Today is 2007-10-26. The postage says 2007-08-23 – and that was when Greywulf resent it because it had already been damaged once. And the deal was made way back, wayyy back – Comments on 2007-05-04 Zorcerer of Zo.

The package’s content has not been damaged. I guess the hardcover corners are a bit bent because of the cruel two months in limbo, but that’s it. 3.3 kg of RPG goodness!

And all of that in exchange for a gp2x. Long live the barter economy.

(Is that a sign of inflation or deflation?)

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# 2007-10-26 Work

Next week I’ll start working again. Through incredible luck I’ve managed to enjoy a 60% job in IT. I don’t work on Fridays and I have four months of holidays every year. Usually I take these in two blocks of two months each. Starting this block with a trip to Japan has been an excellent decision. It totally took my mind off work. It was bliss. Unfortunately it is coming to an end. And I think that partly explains why I’m still up at 3:30 in the morning…

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Awesome. In the last year and half, I have worked at 3 part-time jobs then switched to one full time one for the last year and a I haven’t had vacation – well, since being unemployed. The closest thing to vacation for me is reading your blog.

Welcome to the land of opportunity.

AaronHawley 2007-10-26 12:02 UTC

Ouch.

I’m happy my dad got a job with a Swiss company oh so long ago…

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-26 12:15 UTC

# 2007-10-27 EN World

I took advantage of the Super-duper Community Supporter Account offer and bought the comunity supporter thing for four years paying USD 40. Ten dollers a year ain’t too much for a site I’ve been looking at about once a day since getting back into D&D. (It’s all GreyWulf’s fault, I’m telling you!)

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# 2007-10-27 Fidel

Today I noticed the following awesome quote on a Paizo board:

I am the GM. I own all of the gaming materials. We play at my house. I’m like the freakin’ Fidel Castro of gaming up in here. They can’t go anywhere else!
– Fatespinner [1]

On the subject of quotes… I also liked this one:

Dungeons & Dragons is a game played with dice. One player controls a dungeon, which is like an underground maze full of monsters and treasure. The other players control one character each, maybe a wizard or a warrior, and their task is to work together to beat the dungeon. What’s neat is that if you’re successful, you can keep your character along with any treasure they found, and use it the next time you play.
Explaining Dungeons & Dragons by JonathanDrain

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Up in here? Where’s ‘here’?

Ah now I get it, he’s got his head up his arse. Well have fun up there buddy, but good luck at getting anyone else to climb in there with you.

– Marco 2007-10-27 23:41 UTC

Oh well, I loved it. Maybe it was just the context…

AlexSchroeder 2007-10-28 13:46 UTC

# 2007-10-27 Question Asker For The Win

I think the Oddmuse:QuestionAsker Extension is a clear winner.

Looking at my cron job that distributes the EmacsWiki:BannedContent page and friends, I find that only the wiki at openlaw.ch still uses it. The OddWiki farm has its own maintenance script that also fetches these pages. Every other wiki is asking questions instead.

I’m planning on adding a new spam fighting module to EmacsWiki (still not asking questions…) - a module that will complain if you post a page containing too many links to the same domain. I’m ignoring subdomains, protocol, path_info, and query parameters. It’s just the domain (“example.com”) that is counted.

Let’s see whether that helps against the spammers using throwaway domains or hacked sites.

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# 2007-10-27 Vralgor Szarn

I think I like WolfgangBaur’s KoboldQuarterly. The issues have an interview I like, some rules discussion, an ecology article, a devil article, and so on. This issue (KQ2) had some reminders on making a city come to life: Use a sitcom as your model. Have a (small) recurring cast of reoccuring characters. Make them memorable. Your goal is achieved when your players want to visit a certain character known to them by name on their own accord. I’ll try to push this for my VaultOfLarinKarr game tomorrow.

In my RedHandOfDoom game the party has run into barghests once again. I’m starting to like them. And this Kobold Quarterly issue has an ecology article about them, including a Knowledge (the Planes) table and a nice pack leader. I think I’ll feature him as the barghest lord that made the deal with the Red Hand of Doom, explaining why the party is encountering so many of them. This will allow me to use even more of them, and it will allow the party to take their revenge eventually. I think they’ll like that.

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# 2007-10-28 Braggel’s Barn Burning

We got to use my first “Valley News” sheet. I have a single line for every day in the next three weeks ready. I rolled for some summer weather and distributed some rumors and news over the various days, and then I went back the module and figured out the timing for one or two subquests and placed those events as well. And it seems to have worked quite well. As you will see, the party was tracking some firestarters into the Forest of Nin and just then it started to rain according to my sheet. Bad news for the ranger…

June 28Fortwin the gnomish jewelry merchant arrives in Twain to buy new stuff from Angus Carl. Fortwin started as a random encountered at the doors of the Gnoll Inn between Fairhill and Aldergrove. I think I like him. Perhaps Krel will start working for him… The party decides to not visit Crus and ride for Pembrose instead.

June 29Aldulphous Bragger’s barn burns down in Pembrose. The party decides to investigate and meets the half-orc constable Wershaw half a dozen of his men. Together they interview the poor peasant, his wife, and his farm hands. A letter written in a nice hand onto beautiful paper had been stuck to a tree with a fine dagger. It said: “Leave the statue by the Whispering Rock or more shall follow.” Nobody knows of a statue and the Whispering Rock is about twenty miles north of Pembrose.

Soon enough Belflin discovers tracks leading off into the Forest of Nin. The party decides to follow…

June 30 – Full moon tonight. Apparently this is the night where pigs are offered as a sacrifice to Hecate, the goddess of night and evil magic.

July 1 – Rain starts falling. The party is still following the tracks and surprises a company of fourteen hobgoblins waiting for the sun to raise and using Entangle. They slaughter all but one. The survivor confesses that the company has followed a call by the witch Uela and her consort Thugler. These two have been recruiting hobgoblins in order to attack Pembrose. Apparently they have taken up residence in a keep not far from Pembrose. The party decides to send Corian’s familiar Tuffus to warn Wershaw and to continue tracking the arsonists.

July 2 – A cold wet wind blows from the West. The party is attacked by a troll at night but manages to kill it.

July 3 – The party evades some boars and continues tracking.

July 4 – The party continues tracking but chances are growing slimmer with every passing day.

July 5 – Belflin finally looses track of the arsonists.

## XP

Challenges overcome:

• 14 Hobgoblins
• 1 Troll

Level 5: 14 × 300 + 1500 ⇒ 1900 per Person

Corian
14025 + 1900 = 15925 (Sor-5 + new level)
Auroleva
13916 + 1900 = 15816 (Drd-2/Clr-3 + new level)
Belflin
13780 + 1900 = 15680 (Rng-5 + new level)
Krel
12312 (Brb-5)

# 2007-10-29 Microsoft Spam Filter

Back at work… got over 10’000 spam emails in my Junk folder, and about 300 mails in my Inbox with a 50:50 mix of spam to ham. Not too shabbby and lots better than in previous years! 😊

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# 2007-10-29 Planescape 3rd ed

Planewalker just published first drafts of chapter eight and nine of their Planescape book for D&D 3.5. They’ll probably finish the book just as 4E makes its appearance. Oh the irony!

Anyway, I decided to take a closer look at chapter nine and offer some feedback. [1] Let’s see what happens…

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# 2007-10 Book Club

When: October 10, a Wednesday, as usual: 19:00, Starbucks, Central

What: Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie – Uli says: “I know we’ve had a few India-related books lately but I happen to be reading this right now and enjoying it a lot.” Wikipedia: Shalimar the Clown.

Why: Supporters are Uli, Debbie, Karina, and Chrissie.

Alex says: “Coming back from my holidays at the end of September, I won’t have time to read it.”

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