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.