Friday, November 18, 2011

recent writings

It's been a busy last week or so, catching up from the backlog that being sick (and having a sick wife/kid) generated. But, I've had a few things published elsewhere that are worth pointing out:

  • At, I discuss playing the Ticket to Ride games with kids. I didn't get a chance to talk there about the variant I use for playing with the Grasshopper, so here it is (as suggested by some Boardgamegeek users): Rather than dealing three tickets to everybody at the beginning of the game, and making them pick two, everybody is dealt just one destination ticket. Omit the "long" routes.As soon as a route is completed, score points for it and draw a new one.  Because it's impossible to plan for the longest route, leave the bonus card out.  Otherwise, follow normal rules for drawing and playing cards, claiming routes (and double routes), and scoring.
  • At Kobold Quarterly, I've had my versions of both the Autumn and Winter Sentinel Druids for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons get published to the website.
  • I've pitched a few articles to Wizards of the Coast for D&D Insider, and have a few more to send before the month is over. Like almost everybody else who has sent them anything in the last two months, I'm still waiting to hear back. I'll say what I can, when I can.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Night in the Lonesome October: Wrap-up

I've linked in the cover page everything I've found that was submitted. We had 9 entries for this blog carnival, which ended up focusing heavily on 4th edition D&D -- maybe because that's the community I'm plugged into, although I did my best to get the carnival advertised outside my normal venues. My thanks to everybody who participated. Maybe I'll have better luck next time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Night in the Lonesome October: The Society of Shadows

Adam Page is probably best known in the RPG Blogging community as @blindgeekuk.  He wrote a phenomenal amount of material for the Winter is Coming blog carnival last month, and is a regular contributor to the Daily Encounter. Here, he gives us the Society of Shadows, an outline of an organization whose feel dovetails nicely into the students of Evard the nethermancer (featured prominently in one of the last seasons of D&D Encounters). In addition to the introductory material, there are two themes: The Shadow Caller and the Shadow Seeker.

Download the document here.

A Night in the Lonesome October: The House of Dr. Chamberlain

Our first guest post in the Brain-Attic comes courtesy of Brent Newhall, the RPG Doctor. He tells us of his contribution:

"The House of Doctor Chamberlain is a self-contained horror-themed adventure using the simple Risus system (explained within), perfect for an evening of fun with friends. The player-characters are invited to a manor house, where they witness a murder. As they explore the house in investigation, they turn up ghosts and the tone turns increasingly macabre, leading up to a frightening confrontation."

The PDF is available here. Try it out this week and let us know how it goes!

A Night in the Lonesome October: An RPG Blog Carnival

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere -
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir -
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through and alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul -
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll -
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole -
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

-- Edgar Allan Poe, "Ulalume"

Welcome to the "A Night in the Lonesome October" blog carnival. We're collectively a group of RPG enthusiasts, for all sorts of games and all editions of games, who are coming together between now and Halloween to write all kinds of spooky things for our players (and, we hope, yours). As the week progresses, I'll add links here either to guest posts at my brain-attic, or to things people have written elsewhere, so that this can serve as a single go-to place from which to browse to your heart's content.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On a Night In the Lonesome October: An Upcoming Blog Carnival

Inspired in large measure by the phenomenal success of T.W. Wombat's "Winter Is Coming" blog carnival, I'm going to see just how crazy I can go in the next month and try organizing one of my own. I've snagged the theme for this one from the title of a phenomenal book by the late Roger Zelazny, which he himself snagged from Edgar Allan Poe's "Ulalume". For those not familiar with the book, I will encourage you to run-don't-walk to your local library and check out a copy. I will otherwise note only that it was born out of a wager in which somebody bet Zelazny that he could not write a book in which the audience would root for a certain infamous Jack of the late Victorian era. (Image below the cut courtesy of the fabulous Mark Meredith.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day

Who is Ada Lovelace, you might ask? The super-short answer is the only (legitimate) child of Lord Byron, a correspondent of Charles Babbage, and a talented mathematician. Today, people worldwide are writing about women in science and technology to celebrate her too-short life.

I've got three women I want to talk about, all scientists or science educators, who have been immensely influential to me. I can also virtually guarantee that you will have heard of no more than two of them, no matter how well you know me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Playing games with kids

A few months ago, I started writing a column for a local parenting blog/website on playing games with kids, in part because my local library has a collection of games that goes beyond checkers/chess/Candyland, and supports that collection with a monthly event. It occurs to me that I should start at least mentioning it when articles go live there, and so I now present links to my first three columns to date.

Series introduction - hobby games generally, places in Chambana to purchase or play them
Forbidden Island & Pandemic

Later this week, an article on Upwords will be going up. In the meantime, I know that my next three installments will be on the games Settlers of Catan, Dominion, and Ticket to Ride. (Technically, it'll be about TTR: Europe, since that's what the library has, although I'll at probably focus on the parent game and then mention the differences at the end.) I haven't yet decided in which order I'll tackle these, as I'd like to give them a try with my son first to figure out just how far down you can push the age range so I can discuss that part knowledgeably. In the meantime, if you're a reader who has suggestions on the order in which to write about those three games, leave a comment.

Edited Friday to provide link to Upwords article.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Snow Queen

I've been working on this entry for the Winter is Coming blog carnival being hosted by T.W. Wombat pretty much since the minute he announced it. Before diving into the actual text, I need to give some serious thanks to Jim C. Hines, whose princess series introduced me to the Snow Queen. I've also borrowed some text in here from Matthew Brenner's article on Terrain Powers, and have tried to adapt one gaming-specific statblock written by Mike Shea in his article on Abyssal Plague Demons.

OK, enough... on with the article.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chemistry lesson

Earlier today, a Delawarean whom I follow on Twitter asked for a chemist's take on the explosion that happened at the University of Maryland this afternoon. Although I hadn't heard about it at the time, from the information she linked to, I posited that the original source she had linked to had misheard a reporting officer, and suggested what I thought was more likely. At least some of my guesses have since been confirmed.

I've since sent her my thoughts on what is likely to have happened, which I'll post here:

The 200-level course number suggest to me that the class as a sophomore-level organic chemistry class. A pretty common experiment in a class like that is to combine concentrated nitric & sulfuric acids, and use the resulting mixture to nitrate an aromatic compound, usually toluene. Both stages of this process give off a LOT of heat, and the whole sequence is usually done directly over ice.

If there's any leftover nitrating mixture, it usually gets at least somewhat neutralized before being rinsed down the drain with lots and lots and lots of water. (In my previous career as a high school chemistry teacher, I've done something similar using filter paper to make flash paper.)

The fire department report you linked me to makes me think that some student disposed of the extra nitrating mixture in a container of hydrocarbons of some kind or another. If there were any aromatic compounds in the container, the leftover NO2(+) ions would likely have started to react with them. I'm guessing that the heat given off in the reaction probably ignited the waste, and (if the container was capped) may have caused a pressure build-up explosion.

I've linked you to everything that I know about the accident right now, but the scenario I described above hangs together reasonably well for me. If I see an update from C&E News later in the week, I'll try to follow up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reviewing the Scales of War: Den of the Destroyer (Overview)

Although the fellow who was reviewing the Scales of War adventure path (published in DDI) did just barely get started on the adventure Den of the Destroyer, I figured I should start at the beginning of the adventure while I get my head into this project. So, I'll try to summarize the mainstream plot and assess what I think that plot accomplishes well and what it doesn't:

The fifth of six heroic tier adventures in the path, it's written for characters who start about halfway between 7th and 8th level, and ends them at 9th level. The overall plot can be briefly summarized as follows: Upon returning from the Karak Lode, the PCs are summoned to return back to Brindol (where everything started) and sent with one of the artifacts they rescued in the opening adventure to a remote location where they must perform a ritual on it to awaken something within it. Along the way, they need to stop a gnoll shaman from turning himself into an exarch of Yeenoghu.

Highlights of what the plot should accomplish:
  • Provide some closure to any conflicts with the Lost Ones street gang from the city of Overlook. (Accomplished pretty well)
  • Get them highly ticked off at shadar-kai arms deal Sarshan by revealing both that he has placed a price on their heads and that he has been (at least so far) the ultimate mover of the various bad guys the PCs have encountered (rocky, see below)
  • Introduce the character of Amyria, who has metaplot implications throughout the entire rest of the adventure path.

By making the Lost Ones the bad guys behind the opening skill challenge, and giving the PCs a chance to give them a pretty thorough trouncing, that's an ongoing enmity that can be laid to rest. By the time the PCs are finished with kicking the Lost Ones around, the latter should have it pretty well impressed upon them that they're overmatched, and leave the PCs alone for the remainder of the adventure.

The Sarshan elements are a bit rockier here, although I think a lot of that has to do with the overall rockiness of the heroic tier elements of the Scales of War in general. I find it really interesting that, when asked for best and worst published adventures for 4E, the six adventures that make up the heroic tier of the Scales of War have entries on both lists. Seige of Bordrin's Watch (second adventure) and The Temple Between (sixth adventure) are both consistently praised; the first and third adventures are pretty consistently un-praised. In my opinion, this one's someplace in the middle, maybe on the weaker side. Being able to really get the Sarshan elements revealed requires the PCs to knock out (rather than kill) one of the few non-gnoll enemies they encounter in the last 2/3 of the adventure. Moreover, it gets later revealed (in future adventures) that Sarshan was somebody else's pawn from the get-go.

The character of Amyria gets introduced fairly well, although not much is said about her real nature. Some (maybe all) of that is because when this adventure was published, the Player's Handbook 2 hadn't been published yet, and they were trying to not spoil the Deva race. The pieces they do/don't reveal here also leave it open to question how much of the plot points were being written by the various authors (granted, the author of this adventure is a Wizards of the Coast employee). In any event, this is one of the places where the path as a whole suffers from the decision to reveal plot points to the DMs as they arise, rather than to give enough of a summary at the beginning to support foreshadowing or ongoing plot threads.

Next time, we kick off with trying to assess the opening skill challenge, "Finding the Messenger."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Letting my Geek out.

OK... I've let this languish for far too long (3+ years and counting since my last post). Time to do something about it.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman who worked at tech site Gizmodo published what I can only politely call a screed regarding her experience with an on-line dating site. (I refuse to link to the article and give it more page views, for reasons that should become obvious in a moment.)  She opens by discussing some very creepy guys, and then gets a message from somebody who seems pretty nice. They go on two dates, and she then cuts him off cold after learning that he is a former world champion at collectible card game Magic: the Gathering.

Her post set off a firestorm in the geek community. (I'd like to use a stronger word, but my almost-6-year-old isn't allowed to read it.)  The most productive response that I've seen came from the gracious Monica Valentinelli, who is coordinating a week she's calling Speak Out With Your Geek Out.

So, I'm a geek, and I'm proud of it.

  • I'm an almost life-long gamer -- look in particular at my RIP post for Gary Gygax just a few posts back. 
  • I have recently started writing a column for a local parenting blog on playing games with kids. My target for these are specifically parents who have no idea what's up with the world of games outside TarMart.
  • On the RPG front, I now have a mini-series (link goes to the final installment) of supplementary material for the most recent version of Dungeons & Dragons published by Kobold Quarterly, and expect two more pieces written for them to appear in the next month or two.
  • My son is inheriting (being indoctrinated into?) my love of games. My daughter's too young to try to anything except eat the dice, so no idea whether she'll inherit the "game gene" or not.
  • I love Good Eats. The word of Alton Brown is my culinary gospel, or pretty close.
  • One other project that I'm going to try to publicly commit to here: Another gaming blogger was doing a pretty thorough analysis of a series of adventures published for D&D, and made it into the 5th of 18 adventures before he got bogged down. I'm going to try to pick up where he left off, working 1-2 times per week, and see if I can get us through to the end.