February 2007

We trundle along on borrowed days." - Sheeana, Chapterhouse Dune

February 13th, 2007

Sorry for the long absence from updating. This was not my intention. Unfortunately, life got a bit chaotic. Back in January, shortly after posting my essay "The Stakes", I gave my boss notice that I would be quitting at the end of February. I had it calculated out so that, with three more paychecks, my credit card debt would be paid off. My intention was to go back to freelance writing and theater. I gave the earlier-than-necessary warning so that my boss would have a chance to find a replacement and we could handle the transition smoothly. I don't see any reason to be a jackass about these things.

Unfortunately, my boss has a different philosophy. He countered my generous offer of ample notice by firing me effective immediately. Since I was working as a resident property manager, this also mean that I had three days to move out.

Fortunately, I had already started packing things up. In addition to paying off my credit cards, I figured that I would have an entire month to gradually pack and prep things. In the past I've always been able to arrange things so that I move gradually from one place to another, and I figured I could manage that again. It tends to de-stress and relax the entire process.

But stress had, of course, come to find me this time.

Anyway, to cut a long story short: The move is done now. I've simplified my life to help me stay focused. I didn't manage to pay off my credit cards (obviously), so I'm probably going to have to do some temping in the not-too-distant future.

But for the moment, I'm starting to find the groove for the freelance writing again. And I've also officially thrown my hat back into the theatrical ring: Last night my play JOHN AND ABIGAIL, based on the letters written between John Adams and his wife Abigail during the American Revolution, was selected in the lottery for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I'll be posting more information about this as I have it.

In other news, you can expect some meaningful updates to the site over the next couple of weeks.

Also, effective as of today, I'm taking the forums down. They have become completely infested with spam and no one was using them in any case. I'm going to be investigating other options for instituting community feedback on the site, but have no firm timeline for that. Until then, you can always click on Contact and then send me an e-mail.


February 14th, 2007

Spent a few hours trying to get HaloScan to work as a comment option for the website. I can get it to work just fine on small test pages, but the minute I try pasting the Javascript onto this page I start getting scripting errors.

UPDATE: Well, I opened up the HTML again and repasted the exact same text into it. And now it works just fine. Go figure...

UPDATE REDUX: Weirdness abounds. When I double-checked the HTML code again, I discovered I had entered one line of the Javascript twice. I removed the superfluous line... and for reasons beyond comprehending this caused my background color to turn white. So I tried resetting that. And, after much experimentation, I have discovered that in order to keep my current layout I either need to duplicate the Javascript line or I need to duplicate the "<body bgcolor="#000000" text="#FFFFFF">" code. This, of course, makes no bloody sense.

And I've discovered that the exact same thing happens on the Archive page when I add the HaloScan Javascript there. Whacky.

Ah well. If there's one thing I've learned about tinkering with computers: If you've figured out how to make something work, even if you've got no idea why it's working, it's probably easier to accept the success you've already got.

HaloScan does seem to be slowing down the loading of the page. So we'll have to see how that goes before making a judgment on whether or not this will be a final solution.


February 15th, 2007

I've recently been crafting a D&D campaign set in Monte Cook's Ptolus. While working on adventure prep for the campaign, I've found myself reminiscing about one of my favorite gaming memories:


THE PARTY: Talbar is an elemental cleric and an emerging missionary of the Reformist movement. Marco is a fighter wielding a sword of bone which feasts upon the blood of its victims. Granger is a rogue with a cloak of shadows and a vorpal blade. Gorin is a sorcerer whose half-draconic blood is beginning to manifest itself. And Katalina is a monk.

BACKGROUND: The PCs are on a quest to retrieve three magical seals needed to close a rift between this universe and a hellish demon prison (a rift they bear some marginal responsibility for creating in the first place). They have come to the long-abandoned dwarven city of Khunbaral, knowing that one of the three seals was being held in the dwarves' protection when the city fell.

The ruined city of Khunbaral is currently inhabited by several power groups: A clan of ogre-led goblins has recently moved into the upper levels of the city. A colony of dark-scaled draconics specializing in the arts of the shadowdancers came here centuries ago to make sure that none could ever reclaim the seal. The seal itself is in the possession of a black dragon.

And, most importantly of all, a force of dark dwarves has recently arrived in the lower levels of the city. They cleared out the dwarven wights which had previously prowled those lower levels and are now working to excavate and retrieve the dwarven forgestones. The dark dwarves serve the demons beyond the dimensional rift, and their goal is to bring these forgestones back to the fortresses and use them to froge powerful magical weapons for the demonic armies being raised there.

It must be understood that this dark dwarf force was huge and powerful -- several hundred strong with CRs equal to or higher than the PCs' current level. The entire adventure was designed with the expectation that the PCs would not be confronting the dark dwarves in any meaningful way: Their mission was to retrieve the artifact, and they could do that by sneaking around the dark dwarves. The idea was to establish the theft of the forgestones and the dark dwarves as powerful enemies so that these plot points could be revisited later in the campaign.

Finally, there were two powerful dark dwarves in charge of this expedition: There was Sarathek, a powerful sorcerer (several CRs higher than the PCs). And then there was Thuren Issek. Issek was six levels higher than the PCs and designed to return as the right-hand lieutenant of the dark dwarven general later in the campaign.

THE TALE: Breaching the defenses of Khunbaral was a legend in itself. The orcs and ogres had built up a strong position in the ancient dwarven gateway, and the PCs were forced into an epic battle of feints, all-out assaults, tactical retreats, and ambushes over the course of three hours before finally breaking through their defensive lines and rooting them out.

The party descended carefully into the deeper levels of the city. They had a much easier time with the shadowdancers, seizing key tactical chokepoints in the first early and chaotic moments of encountering them, holding those chokepoints, and then tightening the noose.

At this point, things were going exactly according to design. As they went deeper into the heart of the city, they encountered a dark dwarf scouting party. After meeting with some initial success, they were forced to flee when a seemingly endless train of reinforcements (particularly sorcerers) began to arrive. They regrouped in the upper levels and then sought a different route back down into the dungeon. Eventually they found themselves behind the dark dwarven lines, in a deeper part of the city near the crypts and the mines.

Things went wrong, however, when they encountered Thuren Issek and a party of twelve dark dwarves excavating in the area beneath the forges. These dark dwarves were all the same CR as the party -- and the party knew they were a tough fight because they'd faced these guys before. They hadn't encountered Thuren Issek before, but from his gothic and sepulchral armor which seemed to pulse like a living shadow in the flickering light of the torches -- they knew they were seeing something nasty. So it was clear that they were outnumbered and outgunned. And this encounter had been designed so that the PCs could easily detect the dark dwarves without the dark dwarves detecting them (because of all the noise from the excavation). This was the scene where the PCs would learn about the excavation of the forgestones, establish a major (and scary) villain for later in the campaign, and then sneak away to find their magical artifact.

So, naturally, they decided to attack.

Here's how it went:

1. On the first round of combat, as the very first action, Granger (the rogue) charged the undefeatable Thuren Issek -- a character he can only hit on a natural twenty.

2. Granger rolls a natural 20.

3. Confirming the crit, Granger rolls another natural 20... with his vorpal sword.

Snick. With razor-like precision, Thuren Issek's head rolls from his shoulder.

The rest of the dark dwarves -- who had proven so difficult the last few times the PCs had fought them -- went down in chaos and confusion within three rounds. Not only had the loss of their leader completely changed the dynamic of the encounter, but they had been caught without their weapons ready. The PC spellcasters, for their part, launched a coordinated blitzkrieg of firepower. By the time Marco, the fighter, charged in, the dark dwarves had been so debilitated that he was able to cleave through them like butter.

It had taken less than twenty seconds. Flawless victory.

The party takes Issek's head as a trophy (an action which, under my house rules, also prevents Issek from being raised). Marco actually starts wearing it as a necklace. (It fit in well with the necklace of goblin ears he'd been collecting up to hat point.)

The explosions and sounds of combat, however, attract another group of dark dwarves in the area -- this one including sorcerers. The party, already badly injured, retreated... but only to a carefully chosen fallback position where they laid an ambush which wiped out their pursuers and killed two of Sarathek's four apprentice sorcerers.


Okay. No problem. I can think quick on my feet, too. That night I send Sarathek to invisibly infiltrate the PCs' camp and steal back Thuren Issek's had. He succeeds, slits Marco's throat, takes the head, and returns to the dark dwarven sector of the dungeon. There he manages to resurrect Issek (although, under my house rules, he has to chew up almost all of the dark dwarves' healing potions to do it, which had previously been a key tactical advantage for them).

This works out well. Things are back on track and I've played perfectly fair. Plus, the PCs are going to have a real grudge against these guys for later in the campaign. This is actually going to be better than I'd hoped for, because now the PCs are going to be personally invested in making these villains pay.

The next day, things don't go so well for the PCs. Through a series of unfortunate tactical mistakes, they run into an ambush themselves and are nearly killed. They manage to escape, however, and spend the night huddled in a small secret chamber that the dark dwarves haven't discovered yet. Throughout the night they hear great booms echoing throughout the complex. (Unbeknownst to the PCs, their efforts had thoroughly spooked the dark dwarves. Issek was now using explosives to quickly finish their work instead of waiting for the careful excavations to be completed.)

But the day after that is the big pay-off: The PCs stumble upon the dark dwarves trying to escape the complex with the forgestone. The revived Thuren Issek is there. Sarathek is there. Sarathek's two remaining apprentice sorcerers are there. The two or three dozen surviving dark dwarven fighters (out of the hundred and fifty or so originally in the complex) are there.

It's a battle the PCs can't possibly win...

... and yet they try anyway.

It starts with the invisible spellslingers -- Talbar and Gorin -- slinging fireballs at the dark dwarves carrying the forgestone out of the complex. They manage to kill enough of them that the remainder can no longer carry the massive, heavy stone. It falls, crushing several more of the dark dwarves beneath it, and (as planned) blocks a narrow doorway -- splitting the dark dwarven forces in two.

Marco cries out: "Return the necklace!"

And then, on the very first round of combat, Granger -- with his vorpal sword -- charges Thuren Issek.

And rolls a natural 20.

And rolls a natural 20.


It was literally the most amazing thing I've ever seen at the gaming table.

The dark dwarves tried to recover. They rallied briefly under the leadership of Sarathek. But when the PCs focused all their energies on Sarathek long enough to destroy him, the broken ranks of the dark dwarves were rapidly wiped out.

Through wit and guile and luck, the PCs had accomplished the impossible. The epic battle with a black dragon of shadow that followed had been meant as the high-point of the adventure. It instead served merely as a suitable epilogue to the legendary Twin Deaths of Thuren Issek. When the party, at last, emerged once more into the wholesome light of day it was a triumph.

There are other achievements of the gaming table which live fondly in my mind. But this remains my favorite. Perhaps in large part because its a saga which could never have been anticipated or arranged. As a DM I never would have set my PCs against such daunting odds if I'd intended them to truly confront them. And even if I had somehow contrived such a thing, I never could have arranged for the Twin Deaths of Thuren Issek. This is a story which only exists because that particular group of people got together and played that particular game. That's what makes it special.


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February 20th, 2007


Ever since updating to Firefox 2.0 I've been suffering from a horrible lag whenever I tried to open a new download in Firefox. This would happen whenever I would right-click and select "Save As", and it would also happen for any filetypes I had set to save to disk. Basically, what would happen is that I would click the link, tell it where to save the file, and then the entire Firefox program would lack up for 5-10 seconds before the download would finally start.

It was incredibly annoying. And it was most annoying whenever I would need to "strip mine" a page of links. (You know the sites where, instead of having a handy "download everything on this page" link, they have ten different links that you need to download in order to get the complete package of content you're there to pick up in the first place.)

Since this started when I updated to Firefox 2.0, I figured it was a 2.0 bug and there really wasn't anything I could short of uninstalling Firefox and then trying to hunt down an old installation pack to retrogade my system. I didn't really want to do that, but it was getting to the point where I was actually opening up Internet Explorer (yuck!) whenever I would need to download more than a file or two.

But today I finally figured out what the problem was: I had so many files listed in my download history that Firefox was choking on loading the list. Actually, it was probably choking on updating this list, since it would freeze up even when the Download window was already open. I like keeping that list around for reference -- it's rarely useful, but when it's invaluable when it is. (Where the heck did I save that file? Where the heck did I get that file?) But to fix the problem all I had to do was clean that list out by hitting the "Clean Up" button. As soon as I did that, Firefox became as smooth as polished crystal.

Now, to be clear: This is still some sort of shortcoming or bug in Firefox 2.0, because I didn't have the problem in 1.5 and it started as soon as I upgraded to 2.0. The new version is apparently handling that list in a way which is less efficient than the older version.

Also, Firefox is a fantastic browser. If you're still using IE you owe it to yourself to go out and download a copy of Firefox ASAP.

The main reason I'm posting this is not to diss Firefox, but because I was utterly fruitless in trying to find a solution to this problem. Hopefully there'll be some slim chance that, by posting this, it'll turn up in appropriate Google searches and save someone else from the weeks of pain I've suffered.

Or not. Whatever.

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