Shut Up and Hand Me a Chert Tuesday, Jul 3 2007 

In which our intrepid hero experiences IT issues.

It started the night before last, when Mim K/W brought the laptop down to the lounge room to browse the Net as we watched TV—a normal enough occurence. Fortunately (or un-), a piece of software which I’d installed with Google Pack picked up a few bits of spyware/adware/malware which had somehow slipped past the firewall. Around 112 of them.

It produced a popup stating this as Mim browsed, followed by a shrill siren noise. Unsurprisingly, Mim freaked. I quickly got the situation under control and all was well.

Yesterday morning, as I prepared for a day’s writing, the Net link went down. I quickly ascertained that the PPP server wasn’t authenticating, which meant it was a problem at the other end. Exactly the same problem that happens every month or two, when our ISP screws up our billing.

It was my turn to freak out, but thankfully Mim managed to sort it out: the ISP said we were still in credit, so it was probably Windows’ fault. By this stage, I’d determined that—for once—this wasn’t the case.

Three quarters of an hour later, it came back on, and I was enjoying blisteringly fast dialup speeds on our 8000K/second DSL link. I’ve sort of come to expect this level of bandwidth at certain times of the day.

A couple of hours later, I was browsing away, looking for graphics for Chaddma’s Legacy, when the dreaded BSOD reared its ugly head. Aside from munching several pages of Chaddma and crippling Norton’s ability to scan instant messengers (which I don’t use anyway), not much went awry.

Then, last night, Mim brought the laptop downstairs again. All was well until she brought it back upstairs—when it spontaneously shutdown. And when it came back up, it would hang part way through the startup for Windows.

It worked okay in Safe Mode, though, and I worked out that some sort of collision between Norton’s, the spyware checker and a Wikipedia lookup widget was the root cause. Of course, Norton’s wouldn’t uninstall in Safe Mode, and Windows wouldn’t start up if it wasn’t.

Thankfuly, when I uninstalled the Wikipedia thingy and disabled most of the spyware checker’s features, Norton’s decided that it was unencumbered enough to try and repair itself.

After the most gruellingly long startup I have ever experienced in my life—at around 5am this morning—it finally seemed to work. Everything was back to normal—aside from the missing pages of Chaddma’s Legacy. Grrr.

I have to admit, I look fondly on the days when, if your tools stopped working, all you had to do was bang them for a couple of minutes with another rock. I could use a holiday, somewhere where IT issues wouldn’t bug me—how much are return tickets to the Upper Palaeolithic?

    I Keep Telling Myself It’s Only Wednesday Tuesday, Jun 26 2007 

    In which our intrepid hero evaluates his WoAdWriMo progress.

    I’ve been meaning to write another blog entry on WoAdWriMo for several days now, but I figured that if I had time to write, then I should probably devote it to writing Chaddma’s Legacy instead.

    I actually started writing a blog entry about a few days ago, but it swiftly just became a rant about how Sydney people are a bunch of whiny little suckholes when it comes to the weather.

    (Synopsis: 75km/h winds are not hurricane-force, 14°C is not cold, and just because we’ve had four-and-a-half times the average rainfall for June doesn’t mean all of it fell in the catchment, so stop yer bitchin’ about the desalination plant, you nauseating NIMBY morons.

    I should note for anyone who hasn’t been reading this blog for too long that I was born and raised in Canberra.

    Imagine building a cut-price knock-off of Washington DC, populating it with 360,000 or so New Yorkers, raising them on reruns of Are You Being Served? and Blackadder II and giving them a decent public education system—that’s Canberra.

    Now, imagine that Canadians won the tender to build Los Angeles—that’s Sydney.

    Anyway, enough of that. Let’s get back to WoAdWriMo…)

    At present, I have a bit over 15 pages of solid text done, plus three completed handouts and notes on half a dozen more. We’ll round it up and say 16—and that’s without layout, maps, flavour text or most of the graphics. Or, for that matter, game material: I could easily get a few more pages out of it when I plug in the stat blocks.

    (I’m still debating whether to include “read-aloud” text. I hate the stuff—I feel that most GMs are intelligent and creative enough to fill this sort of stuff in themselves. Then again, there’s 30-odd years of spoon-fed tradition to contend with…)

    And that’s still just Act I, sans climax—I still need to detail the big fight at the end with the mooks and then do the haunted temple. Thankfully, Acts II & III will probably be less text-heavy. Much of Act I consists of setting up leads and foreshadowing for the later Acts.

    (See here for an outline.)

    A few months ago, I promised to help Mim K/W out with her work’s end-of-financial-year stocktake. I realised a couple of days ago that the stocktake is this coming Saturday, and given that I’m doing most of my writing for Chaddma in the wee hours, this means that I’m effectively going to lose two days at the keyboard. Still, we could use the extra cash.

    Thus, I can confidently say that there is no way in hell that Chaddma will be finished by the end of the month. However, I’m going to work as hard as I can to ensure that the overrun is as small as possible.

    Which, I guess, brings me to what I should do after Chaddma is finished. I’ve been thinking of doing theme months on the blog. I have a series of five gaming-related posts to work on, and July will be (unofficially) “Get Chaddma Finished and Up on Treasure Tables, then Make a Respectable Start on Chaosium’s Halloween Adventure Contest” Month.

    August, however, could well be Opinion Month. It’s been a while since I’ve done a post on politics.

    Given that I’m no longer a member of a political party (nor do I work for a politician any more), and that there’s a federal election coming up sometime later in the year, August might present a good opportunity to vent my spleen. I plan to continue with my usual irregular fare, but if I can think of 31 things to complain about, then I could do an issue a day…

    Anyway, I’m off to bed for a couple of hours’ shut-eye.

      Chaddma’s Progress Monday, Jun 18 2007 

      In which our intrepid hero reports on the continuing saga of his WoAdWriMo submission.

      Just a quick one today—Mim K/W has a job interview in the city this morning, and I’m filling in time whilst she gets ready.

      The bad news is that I haven’t actually gotten too much more of Chaddma’s Legacy down on paper (or word processor) over the past week: a few notes, some stats and a handful of coats of arms which form plot points in the first and second acts.

      The good news, however, is that it’s all starting to gel much better. I have a bad habit when I write, which I was trying to avoid this time around. I write like zymurgy—I have all the basic ingredients in my head, and I bottle them all in the end, but a fair amount of fermentation takes place in between.

      This means that I tend to freak out a bit with impending deadlines, although I usually pull it together in the end.

      I have the bad guys’ strategy, tactics and social structure firmly implanted in my brain, as well as the detail of the plot and most of the NPCs for Act I, and the broad outlines for Acts II and III. Getting it written down shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, so long as I can get a few days to myself next week.

      Some of the graphics might take a while, but I’ve expected that all along. The Fantasy Cartography vidcast at Zombie Nirvana has also given me a few ideas on how to speed this up.

      Unfortunately, my slackness, the events related last post and the fact that one of my players is having a huge birthday party this weekend means that I won’t have a chance to playtest Chaddma’s Legacy before the end of June.

      At the risk of mixing metaphors, I’m going to have to fly this baby in by the seat of my pants. Then again, I’ve been GMing on-and-off for nearly 22 years, so I guess I can predict most possible player reactions.

      At least this way, I won’t have to waste precious time memorising the minutiae of D&D3.5 combat mechanics yet again. Here’s to small mercies…

        Crunch Time Friday, Jun 15 2007 

        In which our intrepid hero tries to rationalise his slackness.

        WoAdWriMo is about halfway through, and I’m not really anywhere near where I’d like to be with it. In my defence, I’d like to tender the following ten lame excuses. (If you’d prefer to just read about Chaddma’s Legacy and ignore my whining, then skip the paltry justifications.)

        1. My Internet access has been down for over a week due to billing issues with my ISP (thus depriving me of one of my main research tools), and I’ve only just got back on.
        2. Normally, I’d set aside the wee hours of the morning to do something like this, as I find it hard to concentrate enough to write during the day. Medication I’m on screws with my body clock, though, and Mim K/W sometimes frets if she wakes in the middle of the night and I’m not there, so I have to keep normal(ish) hours.
        3. Outside of working hours (and all through the Queen’s Birthday long weekend), Mim K/W has needed the computer to write a training manual for her work.
        4. Over the past fortnight, I’ve gone mad in the kitchen. Mim K/W has coeliac disease, so I took it upon myself to cook her a wide variety of scrumptious (and gluten-free) fare, partly because the gluten-free portion of her diet largely consisted of gluten-free junk food, and partly as an “I love you”.Thus far, I’ve made: eggs Benedict (and I should note that the method for poaching eggs that came with the recipe was concocted by crackheads—the end result looked like bukkake shot through with orange bits); Moroccan potato salad; marinated fetta; chicken and almond pilaf; baked caramel custard (an Irish version of crème caramel); potato, beef and peanut soup; pork sausage and chestnut balls; hoki and ling fillets in lemon-dill sauce; baked brie in apricot sauce; chicken thigh fillets in tarragon vinaigrette; strawberries in sweetened sour cream; Welsh rarebit (fortunately, O’Brien Brewing makes gluten-free beer, and—from memory—Woolworths Home Brand Worcestershire sauce is comparatively free of gluten); tomato soup (from scratch, no less); egg and onion salad; kangaroo fillets with spiced lentils; apple snow (another Irish dessert); potato omelette with spinach and fetta; duckling liver and brandy paté (for some bizarre reason, there was a run on chicken livers over the long weekend, so we had to settle for duckling); daube Marseillaise (a beef, bacon, red wine and brandy stew, which was worth the day-long preparation, just for the look on Mim K/W’s face when I got her to flambé the brandy); strawberry sorbet; tuna and spinach melt; lamb curry; baked rice with tomato and sausage (twice); and double-glazed bacon (which I’m strongly tempted to cook again today).

          All of this has proven that I should learn to chop faster and that I need to move somewhere with a kitchen big enough for a dishwasher. Fortunately, I’ve also built up an immunity to the effects of syn-propanethial-S-oxide.

        5. I’ve been tinkering with the framework for my Call of Cthulhu campaign and reading Secrets of Kenya to boot.(Incidentally, if David Conyers is reading this, I’m about a third of the way through Secrets, and it seriously kicks butt. If I could suggest one thing, though, it could’ve done with a good proofread—spellcheckers often miss block capitals and heterographs.)
        6. I’ve been watching far too many DVDs over the past few weeks, including: 100 Girls, 100 Women, All Over the Guy, Amelie, Boys and Girls, Centre Stage, The Brothers Grimm, Carnivàle, Casanova, Clerks II, Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Constantine, Das Boot, Demolition Man, Dungeons & Dragons II, Eegah, Election, Elizabeth, Fallen, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, First Knight, Forbidden Planet, Ghosts of Mars, Gunpowder, Treason & Plot, Henry Rollins: Live at Luna Park, The Incredible Petrified World, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Lake House, The Life of David Gale, Love Actually, Never Been Kissed, Nosferatu, Paycheck, The Peacemaker, Sahara, Shadow of the Vampire, She Gods of Shark Reef, Sneakers, Spy Game, Starship Troopers, Take the Lead, Talisman, Three to Tango, Time After Time, Ultraviolet and Wing Commander.White Pongo is next.

          Some of these have been inspiration for WoAdWriMo, and many have been to spend quality time with Mim K/W, but just as often I put them on for background noise whilst I was writing, and got distracted.

        7. I’ve been hobbling around the house for the last week-and-a-half with a strained tendon in my foot. Also, given that this is an unusually cold winter (for Sydney) and Mim K/W doesn’t take the cold well, I’ve been sitting in front of a heater for the first time in nearly seven years, and my eyes keep playing up as a result.
        8. Mim K/W contacted an employment agency a couple of weeks earlier than I would’ve liked, and they’ve been bugging me about a couple of positions. Normally, I wouldn’t mind, but the timing’s just out.
        9. I’ve been busy compiling cat pictures for Mim K/W (as mentioned here), designing our dream home with Visio, and researching my family tree.
        10. I’ve been writing too many long blog posts, like the one you’re reading now.

        On the upside, however, this means that I still have two weeks to pull finger and write the rest of Chaddma’s Legacy. Although I’ve done very little actual writing over the past week, its structure has finally started to gel.

        I always thought that the ending was a bit weak, but by promoting an NPC who was a minor nuisance all the way to chief bad guy and rewriting his backstory a bit, I’ve come up with a way to solve this problem. It makes the adventure half as long again—necessitating a third act—but it’ll be worth the extra effort.

        The outline now looks something like this (again, without giving away too many spoilers):

        Act I: The PCs are resting in an inn when humanoids attack the village. Subsequent investigation reveals that the humanoids have raided other villages in the past few weeks, mostly taking equipment, but also enslaving one of the villages.

        The PCs follow them back to their encampment to discover them excavating a ruined temple, at the orders of Chaddma, the ghost of a little girl slain by a party of adventurers some seventy years before. Chaddma makes it clear that she’ll continue her efforts until she’s avenged.

        Act II: Clues from the temple reveal that one of her murderers is from a noble family in a nearby town. In order to put Chaddma to rest, the PCs must either return with the murderer who physically killed her or prove that he’s died in the interim. To do so, they’ll have to break into the family keep, but the keep is by no means defenceless.

        Act III: The PCs learn that the reason behind the original attack on the temple was to acquire a Maguffin. The murderer who originally sought the Maguffin—and who still serves the noble family as a valued retainer—has spent the better part of his life looking for it, in order to carry out a Diabolical Plot. It’s in the PCs’ interests to stop him.

        I love to play with in-game expectations (just ask any of the poor schmucks who’ve played D&D alongside me), and part of Chaddma’s Legacy revolves around alignment.

        Being the diehard Nietzsche freak that I am, I’m suspicious of absolute notions of good and evil in real life. Now, I realise that the kind of high fantasy that characterises D&D requires an alignment system, but above and beyond the rules in the Core Books, there’s a series of assumptions (metarules, if you will) that are near-universal. In the space between the rules and the metarules lies some interesting philosophical terrain.

        Games like Call of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies are big on the consequences of PC actions, but it’s not something that gets a lot of play in D&D.

        Ostensibly, if a good PC in D&D commits a “good” act, then all is well; any unintended, possibly “evil” fallout usually slips between the cracks in the plot. Alignment merely provides a gauge for the explicit “goodness” or “evilness” of acts—or rather, the motives behind them.

        You can either take this conventional route, or punish PCs for the objective outcomes of their acts. In essence, however, unless they directly observe these outcomes, then this retribution will appear arbitrary. And that’s an effective method to break up a gaming group very quickly.

        The conventional route works fine as is, but it requires a certain level of ignorance on the part of the PCs to work.

        I’ve been thinking about using this as the basis of an adventure for quite some time. Serendipitously, I discovered a couple of posts on other WoAdWriMo writers’ blogs that touch on PC motivation, although not in the context of their WoAdWriMo submissions (as far as I know).

        From Jeff’s Gameblog:

        [O]riginally, the alignment system didn’t have any metaphysical implications. The nine alignment oriented planes came much later and there wasn’t much in the way of alignment-based spells or other mechanical effects. Instead, alignment referred to simply what team you played for. Elves and unicorns and such are “us” while red dragons and orcs are “them”. It was as simple as that.

        The metaphysical element of alignment, in my experience, still isn’t often touched on; the most it’s been used for—in games I’ve played in—is to differentiate demons from devils (or tanar’ri from baatezu, or whatever). In practice, the older approach to alignment still prevails to this day.

        And from Neitherworld Stories:

        One of the first things that I thought was that [the backstory for the Dexter TV series] would be a cool RPG concept. Take someone who has a keen interest in vivisection, but only practices it on bad people… or evil creatures. In D&D, humans and demihumans may be off-limits, but orcs and goblinoids could be fair game.

        Then I stopped and realized that I just described half the D&D characters in existence.

        In essence, alignment works like a traffic light, stuck to the forehead of every creature in an encounter. If my PC is good, and perceives the creature ahead to be evil, then the light turns green and my PC can kill that creature in all good conscience. So long as my PC is never disabused of that notion, then he remains, for all intents and purposes, good.

        Chaddma’s Legacy muddies these waters considerably. It’s about the evil consequences of an evil NPC tricking a good NPC into performing a good act to further an evil plot, and the evil that good PCs must perpetrate upon good NPCs in order to vanquish evil and set things aright—all without knowing who’s good and who’s evil to begin with.

        Only, I hope, it doesn’t play out as confusingly as that last paragraph.

          Chaddma’s Legacy Wednesday, Jun 6 2007 

          In which our intrepid hero gives a brief introduction to his WoAdWriMo project.

          Now that I’ve got my backlog of posts out of the way, I thought I should give a quick rundown of my WoAdWriMo submission. WoAdWriMo officially started on Friday; I haven’t had a chance to do too much work on it yet, but I had some notes jotted down. All in all, I think I have about 4000 words in the bag.

          Normally, I’d be happy to unload my thoughts here, but given that Myth-Weavers are doing play-by-post conversions of WoAdWriMo adventures, I’m reticent to reveal too much. I’d prefer to leave my finished work in the hands Treasure Tables and Myth-Weavers, with the option of hosting it on my own static site sometime down the track (if I ever get around to having one again).

          Anyway, it’s an adventure for D&D 3.5, and it’s called Chaddma’s Legacy. Like many poorly written adventures, it begins in a tavern—but the village comes under attack whilst the PCs are there. It features guerilla warfare, a ghost story and urban intrigue. More on these themes in later posts.

          I chose D&D because it’s common. I suppose I could’ve chosen a system like Tribe 8 or Unknown Armies, or one available online, but I figure that if two-thirds of gamers out there play D&D, then it’s much easier for GMs to implement a D&D adventure. Chaddma’s Legacy won’t require a huge learning curve, which otherwise might turn off some players and GMs.

          Although I own (I guess) 15-20 linear feet of D&D books, I’m well aware that not everybody does, and in any case, it’s not fair to expect a GM to lug 10kg or more of manuals around so they can run it. Therefore, I’ve tried to keep the required books to a minimum:

          • the Player’s Handbook;
          • the Dungeon Master’s Guide;
          • the Monster Manual;
          • the Expanded Psionics Handbook; and
          • Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary.

          As a real minimalist option, everything needed to run it can be found in the SRD, except for a handful of templates from the Advanced Bestiary; the latter will be figured into the stat blocks, so not even that book would be absolutely necessary.

          Psionics-hating GMs should note that the adventure isn’t that heavy on psionics, either. One of the NPCs is best modelled using the psionics rules, but that’s about it.

          Anyway, I guess that’s it for the moment. I need to get some more of this thing down on the page.

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