Diary

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This is both a wiki (a website editable by all) and a blog (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

Für Rollenspieler gibt es ebenfalls eine eigene RSP Kategorie.

2020-08-07 Plan 9

There is quite some love for Plan 9 to find online. And I find it fascinating. My main problem is that I love Emacs and they make fun of Emacs. Instead, we get acme. In any case… I went to the 9front website…

I downloaded the amd64 torrent from the ISO section…

I wrote the iso to my USB stick…

sudo dd bs=4M if=9front-7781.38dcaeaa222c.amd64.iso of=/dev/sdb conv=fdatasync

I rebooted my computer and hit the right key as it was booting so that I could choose to boot from the USB stick…

I saw lots of output about IRQ 11 issues and listings of my disk partitions…

I was asked for the bootargs…

Uh, what?

I escaped to a shell and looked at shr but didn’t find my 9front.iso. I did see the shr/usb folder and all that, but all the folders were empty.

I looked around for a while, and then I rebooted into my regular system.

That was my Plan 9 adventure.

OK.

Let’s try again.

Make a new directory called 9front, and move the ISO you downloaded in there. We’ll use Qemu.

sudo apt install qemu qemu-utils qemu-system
qemu-img create -f qcow2 9front.qcow2.img 30G
qemu-system-x86_64 -cpu host -enable-kvm -m 1024 \
-net nic,model=virtio,macaddr=52:54:00:00:EE:03 -net user \
-device virtio-scsi-pci,id=scsi \
-drive if=none,id=vd0,file=9front.qcow2.img \
-device scsi-hd,drive=vd0 \
-drive if=none,id=vd1,file=9front-7781.38dcaeaa222c.amd64.iso \
-device scsi-cd,drive=vd1,bootindex=0

And it boots! And I can keep hitting Return and the defaults all work. Yay!

Gotta work on that screen resolution, though. Or on the default font size. This stuff is tiny.

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2020-08-05 Episode 32

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how I misused a basilisk once and how I want to use it instead: like a terrible tank weapon, poisonous, with harsh save or die effects so that lateral thinking is required to get rid of it.

Links:

Tags:

Comments on 2020-08-05 Episode 32

It’s good to hear you again. And what a timely manner! 🙂

Just now my players are heading to the lair of a chained basilisk, in the depths of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings (we are playing Trophy Gold).

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 09:31 UTC


How do monsters work in Trophy Gold, and how about the basilisk in particular? 😀

– Alex 2020-08-06 09:49 UTC


Trophy Dark and Trophy Gold are a pair of tragic fantasy games rooted in PbtA/BitD. As they say in their Kickstarter campaign:

Trophy Dark is a one-shot game of psychological horror, where you portray risk-taking treasure-hunters on a doomed expedition.

Trophy Gold is a campaign-length game of dungeon-delving adventure in the old school model.

I summarized to the best of my abilities. Hope it’s clear enough to understand how the game works. 😅

Monsters have six features:

  • Name
  • Description
  • Endurance — A number between 2 and 12 indicating how hard is to defeat the monster in combat.
  • Habits — Six typical attitudes of the monster.
  • Defenses — Special abilities the monster has.
  • Weakness — Something that a monster is specially vulnerable to. If the monster’s Weakness is used against it, its Endurance is reduced.

In combat, each PC fighting rolls two d6: the first one is the weakness die; the second is the performance die. Performance dice are pooled together. If the total of the two highest performance dice is equal to or higher than the monster’s Endurance, it is defeated. If any of the performance dice equals a PC weakness, his or her Ruin (the “health” of the system) increases by 1 for each performance die matching the weakness. GMs don’t roll.

The Basilisk (Endurance 10) is a giant gray eight-legged lizard with a flat crocodile head full of teeth.

Habits

  • Sniffing the air.
  • Curled up, possibly asleep.
  • Striking.
  • Demanding pets and scratches.
  • Staring at a victim.
  • Raging and thrashing.

Defenses

  • Charge — The beast charges you, terrifying you and possibly knocking you down.
  • Petrifying Gaze — Your skin begins hardening and movement becomes difficult.
  • Reptilian Frenzy — You are knocked back as the beast thrashes about wildly.

Weakness

  • Reflections.

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 10:50 UTC


Interesting. So, your ruin increases and the text basically gives you some hints as to why this might be and it’s up to the player to role-play appropriate effects of their ruin increasing (due to petrification, for example). Also, my impression would be that the effects of a fight with the basilisk is the time it takes to beat endurance 10, and every failure means another point of ruin added.

– Alex 2020-08-06 11:55 UTC

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2020-08-05 Abusing Soweli Lukin

A long time ago, I wrote Soweli Lukin, a web proxy for Gopher and Gemini. That allowed me to do some munging of the Gopher texts and render it as HTML, which meant reflowing long lines. That’s the main reason Gopher clients don’t work for me on mobile phones.

Now, if somebody wants to crawl all of Gopher space, they can crawl Gopher… or they can use a web proxy. That’d be pretty aggravating, of course, but not inconceivable. There are, after all, lots of people not wearing masks and endangering others, I bet they’re also willing to write such crawlers.

Now look at that, for the logfiles of today and the day before:

root@sibirocobombus:~# grep soweli-lukin /var/log/apache2/access.log /var/log/apache2/access.log.1 | /home/alex/bin/leech-detector
                  ip       hits bandw. hits% interv. status code distrib.
      173.231.59.198      14956     5K  91%   -0.0s  200 (99%), 500 (0%), 502 (0%)
       XX.XX.XXX.XXX        629     2K   3%   -5.3s  200 (97%), 502 (1%), 500 (0%)
      XXX.XXX.XX.XXX        433     4K   2%   -1.4s  200 (99%), 502 (0%)
         XX.XX.X.XXX        221     7K   1%   92.9s  502 (68%), 200 (31%)
…XXXX:XXXX:XXXX:XXXX         16     5K   0%   25.2s  200 (56%), 500 (25%), 304 (18%)
…XX:XXX:XXX:XX:XXX:X         12     4K   0% 1756.0s  200 (100%)

Fifteen thousand hits.

Reminds me of 70.113.100.216 who was slamming Gemini space a few days ago.

Well… I used ipset to drop their packets at the firewall, for now. Let’s see whether they change it, trying to make a comeback.

While I was at it, I also checked the IP numbers with requests in the hundreds. One of them was my monitor that checks whether the site is up, the other two were spiders with such promising names as “spider@seocompany.store” and “SEOkicks”. Ugh. Think of all the CO₂ wasted because of this SEO-💩.

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2020-08-04 Combat posture

Today I had an interesting interaction with Pepe Andre on Discord. We were talking about combat maneuvers. You know my stance. When Pepe Andre said that they wished they had a fast rule for knocking torches out of hands, for example, I said my rule would be: nobody knocks torches out of Conan’s hands while he still has hit points.

It does make for (faster but) boring fights, but that suits me fine: the interesting question should be how to avoid a fight, or how to make it very short, not how to make it interesting. If we make it more interesting, it’s going to take even longer.

Pepe Andre then said they still like tactical decision that go beyond movement and positioning. A fair point! But perhaps there are different solutions to satisfy this desire. What if players and enemies could decide upon one single posture at the beginning of the fight?

Brom says: “This fight I’m going all-out.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “all-out” means +2 to hit and -2 to AC, for the entire fight. If that makes the fight shorter, great. If that makes the fight riskier, great.

Lydia says: “This fight I’m going to harass the steel agent in order to make an opening for Olga.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “distracting enemies” means you roll to hit AC 9 and if you make it, the partner you named at the beginning of the fight gets +1 to hit and +1 to damage, and the distracted party gets -1 to hit and -1 to damage. Could be important against well armored opponents? Then again, we need to compare this to flaming oil, where successfully throwing it at somebody (ranged attack to hit AC 9?) does 1d8 damage now and 1d8 next round, so that explains why there’s quite a bit going on.

In any case, writing up such a list of postures could be interesting. Something cool to share with friends, something that colours the fights at your table, something to highlight how rogues actually cooperate on the battlefield.

All you need to do is explain to your players that you want combat to be fast and furious and that it’s hard to adapt tactics and it would take forever at the table so let’s just do it once per fight, when we start.

What do you think?

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2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

Somebody wondered what to play with their kids. They said: “even simple D&D is complex … They want gratification with minimal effort.” Fair enough! So do I. 😅

I’d suggest Lasers & Feelings, or variants thereof. There are super simple: you have two stats that are connected: lasers or feelings, sorcerer or sellsword, and you pick a number between 2 and 5 for where you are on the scale between the two. Thus, if you are Spock, pick 5. On a test, roll a d6 and see on which side it lands on: for Spock, a result of 1–4 means a success when using lasers, a result of 6 means a success when using feelings, and a result of 5 means you get a special insight. There are many variants of this game, they vary in the two attributes they pick, and the adventure and setting guidelines. Most of them are one page affairs.

If the kids are older and they want D&D, switch to a version from the eighties: Moldvay’s Basic D&D, or Old School Essentials, or Basic Fantasy RPG. These games have elves, dwarves, halflings, magic users, fighters, thieves, red dragons, orcs, a cover showing a dragon, Moldvay’s Basic D&D even says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover, and all of them are simpler than D&D 5E.

If it doesn’t have to be D&D, then use something like Lady Blackbird, or Classic Traveller.

Lady Blackbird has single page character sheets that include all of the rules, and premade characters, and some adventure suggestions. Just keep adding to the setting and you should be good to go for a long campaign, or run a tight ship and you can play through it in one session. Up to you.

Classic Traveller is the classic sandbox: generate a subsector, think of some patrons and quests, factions, enemies and potential allies, and go.

What do you or would you play with kids?

Links to pages on this blog:

Links to elsewhere on the web:

Links to web applications:

Hex Describe is particularly well suited for classic D&D and old school variants like Moldvay’s Basic D&D, Old School Essentials, or Halberds & Helmets.

Comments on 2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

On Mastodon, I got a few more suggestions!

@urbanfuzzy suggested Hero Kids. “Simple D6 system that you can throw most stories at.”

@Whidou suggested Searchers of the Unknown, and Dungeon Romp. For younger audiences they also liked The Supercrew, “because it lets them draw their own super-hero. Dead simple rules and short games too.” And Pirates! Apparently it’s for cool for kids and beginners, “even if you may want to tone done the killing and drinking a bit.” 😅

@JasonT suggested Amazing Tales and said “my friend loved playing Amazing Tales with his 4 year old.”

My experience with very young kids at the table is that they usually just try to draw whatever is happening and their parents roll dice and decide what happens, but if this game manages to pull a four year old kid in, then that’s great!

– Alex

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2020-08-03 The rich

Today I had an interesting conversation with @natecull on Mastodon. It all started with a comment of his:

“Most inherited wealth gets floundered.” Sounds fishy to me

I did hear something like that in a (German) newsletter of a fund manager friend of mine. Basically: where are the inheritances of the Fuggers, Medicis, Rothschilds, Astors, Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts? When 120 heirs of Cornelius Vanderbiltim met in 1973, they had not one millionaire among them. There are still some rich Rockefellers and Rothschilds but they don’t compare with the fortunes of their ancestors.

He cites Robert Arnott, William Bernstein and Lillian Wu who looked at the richest people since 1982 based on the Forbes 400 and a study by Kevin Phillips of the richest US families going back to 1918. A simple look at the richest 400 in 1982 shows that only 69 of them or their heirs remain in the list from 2014. The problem is that the newly rich are so much richer you cannot compete by simply keeping your inheritance intact. In 1982 you needed $75M to be in the list, in 2014 you needed $1.5B, corrected for inflation that is eight times as much. The newcomers are simply so much richer, and maintaining wealth with investments is hard, plus you get to split it up with every generation.

Not that any of this is of any import to all of us that aren’t wealthy. It’s an interesting side note, but also pretty irrelevant when it comes to politics. Tax those fuckers!

My main takeaway was this: we actually have two problems: in the mid-term, the children of rich people are still rich and have tons of unfair advantages; and even if these dynasties are not a problem in the long term, the shooting stars of the ultra-rich still are a problem, but combating them is (surprisingly) not simply solved by stiff inheritance tax.

There is an additional problem, unfortunately: the way capital (rich people and big companies) capture politics. If you look at Switzerland, for example, you’ll see that the health commission in our senate has 13 members, and most of them have connections to hospitals, insurances, etc. One the one hand, it’s obvious: if you have the know how, why not volunteer for such a commission? But at the same time: this is the industry using politics to shape legislation such as to drive profit.

Some people think politics enables these companies to flourish, but now they’re no longer competing, they’re using politics to shape the market. It is a corrupting influence.

So, as seen from the left, some people clamour for a revolution. How else are we going to get rid of these rich people and redistribute their wealth? We can’t even enact laws to bring back inheritance tax, here in Switzerland! In our collective race to the bottom, we got rid of it, as the cantons try to out-compete each other for the lowest taxes in order to attract the richest people, which then in turn threaten to capture local government.

But… revolutions are dangerous. Who’s to say that things are better after the revolution? When we point at the Soviet or Chinese revolution, people like me say: “that wasn’t true communism!” There’s also the historic comparison made by the Chinese and Soviet communists: perhaps those years were bad, but consider the slavery, the robber barons, the civil wars, the crop failures and the famines before we came to power! Those arguments seem to get less traction these days, however. In any case, I think calling for a revolution is simply a way to start the discussion. I don’t want a violent revolution. We need to argue for incremental change instead of a revolution. Who knows who’ll win the revolution roulette! Not me, that’s for sure.

My guess is that just like people on the left believe in some pure-hearted do-gooder humans who’ll share gladly, the right believes in some pure-hearted market full of fully knowledgeable humans who’ll always trade fairly… Or something! Idealists, wherever you look.

I think we need small changes, and part of that is higher taxes. Much higher taxes! And since people and capital moves around, trying to evade taxes, we need to make a global effort: go after tax havens, put political pressure on them, go after rich people trying to leave a country. Luckily many of the newly rich don’t know they’re going to make big bucks later in life so they make their fortune while still in a country where they can be taxed.

I know the edge cases are painful. It’s painful to pay taxes in both Switzerland and the United States. It’s painful to have lived and worked in Japan and owing them inheritance tax if you don’t live there anymore. Those solutions aren’t perfect. But capital and people flowing freely, extracting wealth in one country and then not sharing the burden according to your means is simply ripping people off.

And don’t come at me with “tax is theft” – who ever thought of such stupid slogan? If you read up on the history of the idea, you’ll see that it always seems to boil down to a philosophical dispute of natural rights, social contracts, and so on. The practicalities of a functioning society doesn’t seem to have a place in this discussion which is also why I don’t care for it.

Where does that leave us? I think the answer is the very constant struggle we’re experience now and have been experiencing since the dawn of democracy. Our enemies decry it as a weakness, but that is just because they have chosen Scylla or Charybdis, unable to maintain their course. And of course, both Scylla and Charybdis and their adherents scream the loudest. But we must stuff our ears with wax and struggle for that blissful compromise, of a free market but with rules, of private property but with taxes. We win!

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2020-08-03 Images and the command line

I’ve been doing some image manipulation on the command line these days. Here’s some stuff I want to remember for next time.

Concatenate two images so that they’re side by side, without reducing them to tiny icons:

convert -background black A.jpg B.jpeg +append C.jpg

And you can resize them, too:

convert -background black -resize 79.6% A.jpg -resize 100% B.jpeg +append C.jpg

Extract an image from a PDF:

pdfimages A.pdf B
convert B-000.ppm B.jpg

Rotate a JPG file, losslessly:

jpegtran -rotate 270 B.jpg > C.jpg

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2020-08-02 A word-of-mouth network

I’ve been reading posts by Solderpunk:

The first post talks about the kind of computing future in store for us when the collapse comes. It’s not great. This is a continuation of Solderpunk’s earlier essay, “Discussions toward radically sustainable computing”.

The second post talks about aggregation and curation of content, and it mentions an idea I’ve heard in a different context regarding the spreading of text. Solderpunk puts it like this:

… relying on the idea that if somebody outside that circle writes something really good on a subject I care about, somebody else in my circle will hear about it through their circle and spread the word.

I think this is very similar to how Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB) describes it self: “messages are passed directly between friends via a peer-to-peer (p2p) gossip protocol.”

The benefit of a gossip protocol is that sender and recipient don’t need a direct connection, no central server, no clear distribution hierarchy, they’re resilient, but they also don’t guarantee perfect results, nor timely results.

So what would we do, in this hypothetical scenario, using something like Gemini, thinking about censorship, aggregation, curation, and all that?

Perhaps something like this:

I write stuff on a site of mine. The content I link to is also downloaded to my site, and made available to others. Thus, to take this page as an example, assume that Solderpunk’s article is no longer available. The gemini.circumlunar.space domain has fallen. In this future, you could still visit my site, discover the link to his site, and query my site for his page, and get a reply!

This could work because Gemini requests don’t necessarily have to serve the same server they’re hosting from. Take my site, for example: the Gemini Wiki software handles the Gemini and Web aspects of transjovian.org, and the Gemini aspects of alexschroeder.ch, communitywiki.org, and vault.transjovian.org. It would be relatively simple to add this caching to Gemini server, and it would be relatively simple to add this cache retrieval on demand to Gemini clients – assuming we all had this post-apocalyptic future in mind.

And it would work without the issues Scuttlebutt has: no need to download whole Merkle trees of signed and chained messages, no problem repudiating content since there’s no signing of content. Conversely, the network would also not be resistant against poisoning: I could falsify Solderpunk’s posts in my cache, of course, and claim that he’d been a great iOS friend all along, for example. Thus, my idea doesn’t solve the trust issue. All it does is solve the disappearing content issue, the dependency on servers. The single source to get Solderpunk’s posts is no longer his domain, it’s not but the point where his posts enter the system – and from there they get distributed by the people who link to them. We can imagine some servers downloading and replicating them all, for example.

The entire system also smells a lot like a waste of resources. Perhaps we won’t feel too bad about it if it’s all solar powered? Who knows. Perhaps we’re simply once again building a system that devours all the resources available. Yikes!

I still like the idea of circumventing DNS blocks using this system, for example. And of copies spreading slowly, by word of mouth, once sites are no longer reachable from anywhere at anytime.

References:

Comments on 2020-08-02 A word-of-mouth network

And today I stumble upon Earthstar, via @natecull.

Data is mutable. Authors can update paths with new documents. The old data is thrown away and doesn’t take up space. You can “delete” data by overwriting it with an empty document.

That was my main concern with Secure Scuttlebutt. 😀

– Alex 2020-08-03 07:41 UTC

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2020-08-01 The problem of social media

Sometimes I wonder about the construction of social media: built to comment on anything, thus revealing all our shit opinions to each other, leading to estrangement and abandonment. I don’t trust anyone anymore. There are so many ways to be wrong: on taxes, on public health, on politeness, on what’s the best text editor – and any single opinion spouting event turns into an uncomfortable reveal.

Maybe that’s why deliberate platforms, where it is harder to post, either because the software is bad, or there are costs associated with it, like long form blogging, make for a better reading experience: where you don’t end up disillusioned in your fellow humans. Or is this simply my filter bubble and social media simply reveals the limits of my own tolerance, the closeness of my horizon? 🤔

Why can’t we just be friends, accepting our respective opinions? I think we can, but face to face we differ in our taste of clothes and our preferred pastry but online we differ in our opinions on black lives, Islam, taxes, immigration, and these opinions affect other people not just yourself. I think that’s what makes the difference. How else would you explain the difference, or have you managed the balancing act?

I think it hurts even more on Facebook because we used to know these people face to face. My current disappointment is my wife reading me the opinions she finds of people that used to be our friends. And… maybe I should geoblock Switzerland from my blog so that my real and imagined friends from the face to face past can’t read my shit opinions.

In offline society we don’t run into this as often. In church, at work, in pottery class, at the play ground – it’s easier to bond with people because you don’t know about their shitty opinions. There’s fear of repercussions, of non-verbal negative feedback.

Maybe that negative blowback is missing, but then again I also understand that some people need safe spaces to vent their opinions without the blowback they get in real life. Hm. Not sure.

Perhaps we still need to figure out how to best use social media. At least some of us have learned that maximizing engagement does not lead to good outcomes. Little advancement, at least.

I think the problem with general wisdom like we’re all wrong some of the time and don’t know it because we all hold opinions based on the best of our knowledge – the problem with statements such as these is that it’s unclear what we should do with this insight. It’s not actionable. Once I accept my limitations with humility, what do I do? It might explain the phenomenon, but what is the solution? To discuss politics with friends until we all learned something? Sounds like what we did back when I was twenty years old. Or just let them be, and be friends and ignore what they say online?

I guess we could try and suspend judgement on other peoples’ opinions. But what else should we judge but opinions? There’s no point in being judgmental about anything else, I think. Or then the entire thing about judging – having opinions about others because of their opinions – is flawed. Or: all opinions are flawed in a religious sense – but that doesn’t help me in my daily life unless I shut myself in, proclaiming all opinions a distraction from the good life I intend to live without contact to anybody else.

I used to think that forgiving people is where we end up if all goes well; or a culture of hidden identities and double lives if things go badly; but now I see we have ended up in a culture where we use real names to be wrong online and all it leads to is me scratching friends off the friends list. I find myself forgiving but not forgetting – and so my esteem of fellow humans keeps dropping day by day.

So now we need a delicate, fragmented, multi-faceted approach: face to face friends who will take me in after a breakup; internet friends to vent – and sometimes to learn because our own opinions are flawed; people who share my politics regarding taxation; people who share my view on immigration; circles and circles…

Is this me arguing for an algorithmic segmentation of social media friends? When we tried this “circles” thing on Google+ it definitely didn’t work like that, that’s for sure. Too complicated, too time consuming. Face to face, we do it implicitly, in the background, all the time. Online, using software, we have to explicitly move accounts from one circle to the next. It just never works that way.

Thanks for your comments on social media, @hannu, @InternetKevin, @Jens, @superruserr.

Comments on 2020-08-01 The problem of social media

Good reply by @acdw.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-01 16:28 UTC


  • BLM = thinly veiled black power movement capitalizing on a tragedy
  • Islam = superstition, values incompatible with civilization
  • immigration = cultural suicide. breeds culture wars.

(All these subjects receive protection by censorship and deplatforming. Modern blasphemy. Making them heavily contested warzone subjects. Because censorship has driven a wedge between common sense and the consensus. )

The previous generation knew talking politics or religion with friends was a good way to lose friends. Current one prioritizes hunting thought-crimes.

People who use their real names on the internet are being fleeced by megacorps who are burning society down to make a buck.

Most people’s beliefs are absurd: ghosts, psychics, horoscopes, healing crystals, a religion you don’t hold, etc. Don’t lose sleep over it.

– Anonymous 2020-08-01 17:35 UTC


You certainly have shitty opinions and we can’t be friends.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-01 20:15 UTC


Hi Alex,

I think this report which I “ran into” the other day will interest (and, sorry, depress) you if you haven’t seen it before. While not directly (but maybe causally??) related to your posts contents it is definitely fitting to the title:

I will quote the book “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crises” where I found the reference to the report:

Three centuries ago Jonathan Swift wrote, “Falsehood flies and truth comes limping after it.” How prophetic this turned out to be. A recent analysis by MIT shows that on Twitter lies spread on average six times faster than truth, and that truth never reaches the same level of penetration. Social media is an engine for the production and dissemination of lies.

From the report itself:

Whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people, the top 1% of false-news cascades routinely diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people.

😟

– Björn Buckwalter 2020-08-04 10:59 UTC


Interesting to see people actually researching this. Thanks for these links!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-04 11:23 UTC


Interesting reply by @acdw. The following is based on an email I wrote in reply.

Context collapse is definitely a thing. And yet, content collapse seems to be a phenomenon centered around the kinds of identities I want to corpartimentalize – but that would seem to be independent of my disappointment in my fellow humans. Sure, perhaps I’m suffering from their context collapse. They can’t keep “serious Alex” separated from their Hicks-admiring friends or something like that, and so I’m seeing a side of them that I did not want to see (and that they did not care to show me).

But perhaps the main issue is that we all believe in things such as integrity and honesty and authenticity which are now shown to be either an illusion protected by context separation, or unattainable, because of all the mutually exclusive demands made on us, or unsuitable concepts to structure our social interactions. If I know that nobody is (nor can they be!) as honest and authentic (and I want to add: as integer! Hah!) as we expect them to be, I’m setting myself of for disappointment.

Is this still context collapse or is that already something else? It feels like a breakdown of some of our core values, of values that are part of our self-identity (in German we’d say “identitäts-stiftende Werte” – values that provide identity). Those who still believe in integrity and honesty and authenticity face an impossible task or find themself excluded from life online, and those who don’t believe in them – what do they believe in? I’m looking at the neofascists all around me and I get a sinking feeling about all of that.

– Alex


I think Social Media are pure anti-social poison. More and more long term studies now get published that demonstrate that the more you use them, the more depressed, suicidal or angry you get.

So we all should try to avoid it like drugs. They might taste good at first but the long term consequences are severe. Also consider the indirect interaction effects, e.g. four people sitting at a table and all updating their social media profiles instead of talking to each other.

I try to focus my online activities on the “old internet”: reading some niche hobby message boards for D&D or adult piano beginners and looking up stuff (images, wikipedia entries, annual reports). Everything else is just a waste of time at best and makes me feel angry or miserable at worst.

– Peter 2020-08-06 12:51 UTC

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2020-07-30 The Mines of Chillhame

I’ve dropped the ball on D&D for far too long. Let’s get back to it. We’re reading The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, for D&D 3.5, with an eye to running it using Halberds & Helmets. Chillhame is the first adventure, part two, where the player characters get to explore some stuff underground.

One hook for the part are missing children. Who doesn’t want to rescue missing children? As a player, I recognise a plot hook when I see one. There’s also John’s tomb, which might possible have his magic sword. The tomb has a missing words puzzle. I’m not so sure how I’d run it. In D&D 3.5 you would use the Decipher Script skill. But taking your time to carefully clean the tombstone also reveals everything. Not much of a puzzle, I guess? I like the thought, though.

There are two hobgoblin tribes in the area and there’s signs of combat near the tomb. This is good. One thing leads to another. With various skills checks players can discover the thing you want them to discover anyway: two trails, a woodland trail and a hill trail.

The woodland trail leads to a hobgoblin camp. The hobgoblins drawings are cool, they look like tattooed punk biker hobgoblins. There are traps guarding the camp, so it pays to approach it carefully. This is the camp of Split Ear and his eight hobgoblins, plus some non-combatant hobgoblins (children). I wonder whether I’d use them. Are hobgoblins mythical monsters, grown from rotten trunks and mud pits, or are they simply humans under another name? I don’t know. I think I’d run them as tattooed punk biker humans. And so I’ll have to make plans for players trying to resolve the situation: the hobgoblins are acting like bandits, do the get hanged? What about the hobgoblin children? Is there at least the option of settling them somewhere? Giving them control over the old mill after kicking out Jim Oakenbough? This is going to be a tough one.

Once the players go to the mine, I like how Jim Oakenbough shows up again and tries to intimidate them. And if you return from the mines, he’ll try to kill you.

And with that we get to the mines!

The mines are under the control of the second hobgoblin tribe, the Talks-with-Fists band. There are side entrances, a grate covering a ventilation shaft, a test shaft, there are tracks to find, and empty bottles in the buildings outside. I like how there’s a hobgoblin drunkard right at the beginning who can be questioned.

The mine has a mine cart that works! Yay!

I don’t like how some of the references here are wrong. The ventilation shaft ends in area 4 on the map but the text says area 6. The mine cart says that the path it takes depends on the setting in area 7, which say south, which the map says is area 9, but the text says area 5. What is going on, here? But worse: those extra entrances don’t help the party sidestep anything. That’s why I’d ignore them.

Similarly, I don’t think there’s much of a point to the spider encounter. Drop it.

So here’s I think what we need:

  • traces of Jim’s activity, the bottles in the building
  • tracks leading into the mine
  • the drunkard sleeping near the entrance
  • the mine cart as a trap and a cool visual
  • a camp with three hobgoblins
  • the room where the kids were kept previously, including the markings they left
  • the ghost, because it draws the party further in
  • the lift shaft, because of the cool visual

I’m not sure how to explain the shaft, though: the hobgoblins on the lower level seem to have no way back up unless somebody pulls them up in the lift? That’s not a smart position to be in. I’d probably add at least a ladder inside the shaft and maybe the lift is permanently broken, lying down there, smashed?

Anyway, at this point we have three things pointing to the next level: the remaining hobgoblins, the kids, and the ghost.

The second level of the dungeon is flooded mine tunnels, which is excellent visuals as anybody who has seen Aliens knows.

Down here are two hobgoblins standing guard in 13d which isn’t on the map. Oh well. And then there’s the boss, with two more hobgoblins, and some hobgoblin children.

Finally, two things to discover: diving under water to find the last child in a cul-de-sac, and the weakened wall that allows players to break through into the actual underworld. There’s Grobni the Surveyor, a duergar.

I wonder how to run a duergar in combat with their ability to enlarge themselves. Do I recompute the stats on the fly? How did the old editions handle that. In the AD&D monster manual it says they can also enlarge themselves. Weird.

Returning to the surface and warning the village of the invasion to come is cool but I think we’d also need to add a bit of dungeon material just in case the players go investigating. They need to see more than just a door that’s magically locked. How did Grobni expect to get back? Can’t he open the door? I’m sure he can! The players need to see those duergar barracks, I think.

Well, and there you have it. We’ve reached pages 45 and 46 with a discussion of the aftermath: how the villagers are going to react, how to push them to evacuate, how to proceed if the players are going to warn the rest of the kingdom, and so on.

I think at this point I should have a pretty good plan set up on how to drive the players before the army if they refuse to do what the text implies: take the evidence to Saragost and warn the villages along the way.

That’s the next chapter: Raising the Alarm.

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– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-22 12:19 UTC

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