Friday, March 1, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (Mar 1)

_When Grumpy Met Sunshine_ by Charlotte Stein:  it’s the Roy Kent romcom where a grumpy retired hard man footballer has to hire a ghost writer for his memoirs and gets a bright charming cupcake of a woman, sparks fly and flames develop. There’s an impressively realistic dance of two damaged people who wear different types of emotional armor finding out how well their core selves match. The third act falters a bit but Stein is genuinely funny, sweet, an incisive with this. 

_How to Read a Suit_ by Lydia Edward: this was laying around the house as my wife and daughter work costumes on a 114 costume show, and since it was mentioned on KARTAS I picked it up. It is just fascinating. Not to be read cover to cover - there’s too much detail for that - but the essays on each age of the three piece suits evolution and the paragraph on each example give you. A great overview of how and why fashion changes over time and where it stayed the same. Highly recommended if you’ve any interest in history or clothes or worldbuilding or costuming. 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report February 29: Leap Day Agrodolce and other things

Happy Pirates of Penzance day everyone! Also, today is the day you ladies can safely proposition your menfol... <holds finger to ear> Oh... Propose to! Yes, that tracks more to old folk customs. 

This week we're going to do some simple things in order to have fun with the sauce, which is also simple.


The man body of todays meal is boneless pork chops cooked with Shake and Bake, couscous, and roasted cauliflower. Yes, I use Shake and Bake, it's freaking delicious, easy, takes 20 minutes, and the goal is to put dinner on the table inside your capacity with minimal effort. The Couscous we've covered before - boil water, add couscous and spice pack from box, cover, take off heat, wait 10 minutes. During the time the water is coming to a boil chop up the cauliflower head and put it on a sheet pan. Slide that pan in on the rack under the pork chops so they cook for 10 minutes. Chops, couscous, cauliflower, it's a beige alliterative meal! 

Now on to the fun stuff: Agrodolce sauce. This stuff is delicious and super-versatile. You'll need some olive oil (1 TBS), 2 medium onions sliced thin, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and two plum tomatoes seeded and diced. You should have about 2 cups of onions and 1 cup of tomatoes. 

Now, in theory, the recipe I have calls for 1/4 cup of golden raisins and 1 tablespoon of capers but raisins in savory is anathema and I'm not a fan of capers. Your mileage may vary. 

Just heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are softened and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and I suppose the raisins and capers (if you're some kind of goddamn monster) and simmer until it gets a syrup consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes or so until they are softened, and transfer everything to a bowl. 

Does that look like it will take about the 20 minutes it takes to get the pork chops done, assuming you slice the onions first? WHY YES, YES IT DOES. When everything is out spoon the agrodolce over the cauliflower, or over any part you want, I don't judge. 

Except about the raisins. I just the raisins. 

Serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - Resource Calculation

My original intent had been to do a weekly post for New Salem but the momentum for Character Creation challenge had me keep doing it daily. It was going to burn me out, so we're back on the original weekly schedule. In this case we're getting goofy and applying the concepts for carrying capacity to the resources. 

The rules for calculating carrying capacity in V&V are quite elegant, if a little esoteric. You take 1/10th your Strength and cube it, then add 1/10th your Endurance and multiply it by half your weight. A person with a 10 in both basic characteristics can lift their own weight. Someone with a 20 Strength and 20 Endurance can lift 5 times their own weight, which is pretty much human maximum. Now, I plan to mess with this later, moving the exponent to a square rather than a cube, but it's important to bring up now because I'm going to do the same thing here. 

First pick whether your career relies more on Charisma or Intelligence. Then take 1/10th that characteristic and square it before adding it to 1/10th of the other. This number is multiplied by the following weighting 

30: neither of your background areas apply to your career and you can only work part time 

60: one of your background areas applies to your career and you can only work part time 

90: both of your background areas apply to your career and you can only work part time OR one of your background areas applies and you can work full time 

120: both of your background areas apply to your career and you can work full time

If you have the Inheritor career it does help you for reducing the difficulty of any test but it does give you a weighting factor of 120 and lets you add an exponent to either your Charisma or Intelligence when calculating your Resources. Likewise the character might negotiate an additional exponent for Heightened Intelligence or Heightened Charisma to show even greater potential resources via some in game rationale 

This will give you a number that can be applied to the carrying capacity table to find a the Resources Die. The GM will set a difficulty on that, usually 3+, to see if the character can afford an invention (or other in game expense) without additional in game action.  

I like this in part because it uses the same mechanics as Carrying Capacity and makes clear the advantage of higher than average intelligence or charisma without nailing it down to a number that will eventually need inflation adjustment  


Monday, February 26, 2024

Emirikol: Merging Adventures and Locations

One of the things you should do for any sort of D&D is over-prepare your immediate setting as a DM so the players have actual options. When you’re building a dungeon, you make more than one path, after all. Since I’m doing the tying together other peoples work for this it’s easy to set a second “outside the city” adventure, so if the players somehow decide that they are going to stay in the carriage or not explore the cairn.  (In my case it was helpful because the PCs made it some way into Vulture Point during our first session.)

·       Below Vulture Point by Jeff Fairbourne: PCs recover the medicine of the ailing nobleman Randamis Ambleer from the raiders who stole it – said raiders are kobolds riding giant vultures!

·       Is there an Elf in the House? By Rafael Fay & Dan DeFazio: Winter storms keep the PCs in the haunted home of a recently married but grievously ill nobleman outside of town, and while there a trapped in the house murder mystery occurs.

Ok, both use the same damn hook – someone needs to get rare medicines to a sick noble in a manor outside the city – so we can easily tie these together. Does it say something about 2E adventures and cliches that the same hook is in 2 adventures that are 7 issues apart? Maybe. But the post hook adventures are different enough that each brings something to the table. Since Vulture Point calls for 0 level PCs and is much less cumbersome to run than a murder mystery, we start there, but edit it so that we are setting up everything we need for later.

That is to say, we use the map and wealth of Lord Faustmann for now Roland Ambleer, which at least sounds like a name people would have (can we not have names that are in jokes or syllable collections? Is Faustmann a real name? Yes. Is it used here just because it sounds like Faust and means creepy magical stuff? Also yes. Plus it’s German so in Emirikol that would make it a halfling or far southern name). If the PCs spend a night before or after going one of them sees the ghost from Elf in the House in their room. Lord Ambleer has every reason to befriend the PCs, so when it comes time for two future events (his marriage, and then his illness in Elf in the House) of course the PCs will be there, eliminating the need for another hook. And maybe the players decide to tackle the haunting aspect immediately, which makes the wildly over-complex Elf in the House easier later.

So… the wounded servant shows up at the tavern the PCs landed at once their carriage was fixed, and the PCs learn that a) there’s a local lord who needs their assistance and b) there are chaos beasts who have been robbing travelers up ahead. Not being 0 level characters they may just skip a and go straight to b without backstory, which is fine, or decide ‘screw it, we don’t care’ but this is legit ‘go fight monsters for treasure’ stuff so doubtful. Assuming they accept the hook, Lord Ambleer is the setting appropriate version of the module who graciously extends equipment and support to the PCs to go raid Vulture Point and recover his lost medicine.

It is amazing how much wordcount in spent every adventure trying with ‘in case the PCs decide to skip this obvious hook’. If they do you either a) have a problem with your table contract where the players are saying “we don’t care what content you prepared, dance Dungeon Monkey! Dance!” or b) your table contract says you should have lots of options prepared and you don’t, do your damn job, Dungeon Master. Sigh.

The Vulture Point monsters has the same over-backstory problem I discussed before and we chuck it all.  Now

1)      Vulture Point was converted to a fort after the land was retaken as a watchtower for the road. As traffic moved to the river and the threat of chaos receded, it was abandoned by the city militia.

2)      It is outside of Lord Ambleer’s territory so he can’t staff it himself. Instead, he (or someone else) has to deal with the bandits who occasionally set up to prey on the East Road traffic.

3)      This time the bandits are chaos beasts, signs of the degrading times: the kobolds are replaced with dog men and the urd is a vulture man, explaining the giant vulture. 

The adventure is a little delight otherwise – the layout is evocative, the monsters use reasonable strategy, there’s a simple variety of threats to introduce the players to D&D – but it is a 2E design, not 3E.

A big OSR complaint about 3E is the balancing the adventures to the party via math; 3E does away with monster levels (where you might expect to find them in the geography) and replaces it with Challenge Ratings, where the DM is meant to build encounters such that each saps about 20% of the party’s resources for a “Four Fights, Fall Back, Recover, Return” strategy. Gygaxian Naturalism falls away to “the game is most fun when PCs reliably win, so do that”. In adapting all the Dungeon Adventures content I had to decide on a case by case basis to stick with the original risky and attrition strategy or go with the balances to the PCs one.

In this case, I left it pretty much as is. The kobold/dog men are weak opponents (CR 1/6) and I had the PCs functionally 2nd level so the attrition but you need to be careful method worked here. The PCs were at real risk by the end but also were tough enough to see the adventure through without falling back.

The other big bit of Gygaxian Naturalism in the adventure as writ is the room full of kobold women and children. This showed up a LOT in early D&D because of the need to explain why things are, but also led to a lot of complaints of ethnographic slaughter from some players, now and then. They aren’t without a point, but it’s also important to have some situations where the enemies are just the enemies, and it is morally and ethically OK to not negotiate. Not only is this a power-based wish fulfillment, but it’s also a fantasy. Sometimes you have a game where Orcs have a complex culture that is just different from Humans in a resource management way. Sometimes you have a game where orcs are grown out of the mud pits of a wizard’s lair with no souls and no culture. Both are fine.

In my prior 3E milieu I laid out the universal rule of “Mercy Works”, because I wanted a very Arabian Nights fantasy setting. Emrikol is not like that. It’s darker, more political, but also much more at risk. War is always possibly coming, and the things waging that war are literally chaos. The Chaos Cults are very Call of Cthulhu, very Warhammer Fantasy Role Play chaos, very Earthdawn horrors. Chaos Beasts are the twisted remnants of worlds they have already devoured vomited into this one to breed and fester and infest human psyches and open the door. In all the cases where adventures called for urbanized Half-Orcs I replaced them with barbarians from the northern islands outside the empire, while Orc qua Orcs were boar-headed chaos monsters. The world was full of ethical dilemmas about how to deal with cultists, but Chaos Beasts were not ethical dilemmas. They are not of this world, they cannot be acculturated, the remnants of their souls are in torment.

That discussion aside, the only other thing I had to do for prep was go through Elf in the House and familiarize myself with the ghost story and what the PCs need to do to fix it. Since the plot of the original adventure’s sequence of events calls for Ambleer’s young wife to have found the secret room with the ghost’s body in it along with the magic locket that held the adventure’s threat, I can ditch the ‘this hidden room held a hidden monster who has a unique magic item to disguise her as the young bride’ and relace that with “the hag-to-be-named-later kidnaps and replaces the bride”.

Now the secret torture room under the chapel (?!? Serious dick move Lord Ambleer’s ancestor) in Ambleer Manor just contains the ghost’s remains, and those being there are also why the Ambleer family spirits are preventing Lord Ambleer the fire priest from healing his condition. The PCs might solve that problem immediately, or it might still be around when we get to the other half of the module.


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Lore 24 - Sudilitas: The Ranks of the Fit

Feb 19: Any able bodied resident can petition to join the Ranks of the Fit, as I discussed before. Moreaux are, if all suitable, made officer trainees and a group is assembled for a scouting or patrol mission to gauge their fitness. If it is successful they can request patronage missions of more complex scope (or just agree to serve if they don't wish to be citizens, though the Ranks prefer their officer corps to hold that honor). 

Feb 20: Patrol missions should be simple enough - a wide circumnavigation of the environs, delivery of supplies to the Ranks outpost inside the farms of the Moreaux Seekers. Perhaps, just perhaps, these missions are chosen with a greater than normal risk of combat to assess decision making, but they are never ones where a fight is guaranteed. 

Feb 21: Once they are assessed, Command will offer a commission to any worthy Moreaux, and places for the others. After that there are ant number of missions to either deal with natural threats to the expansion of Sudilitas' sphere of influence, or as protection against the encroaching threats I discussed earlier. 

Feb 22: The Dark Emperors are, themselves, too distant and powerful to attack en mass, but smaller units have been sent to harry their positions, steal their technology, and scout their territory. Larger ones have been used to disrupt the massing of forces in their client states; we cannot let them array too much against us. 

Feb 23: Similarly, missions should include shows of strength for the Moreaux and Mutate communities around us so they know that we are powerful allies and bad enemies. The Dark Emperors need no more proxy states closer to us, surrendering their liberty for the Carrin's hoarded technology. That would spell our end....

Feb 24: What would also spell our end is if the Badders tot he north (and by extension the rest of the Holy Roan Empire) decided to wage another crusade into our territory. The Badders do this from time to time to "hone their martial prowess" but also because Feudalism is a system that produces so many unnecessary, un-inheriting offspring that spending them on the field of battle is part of their reproductive and political strategy. 

Feb 25: We cannot hit them too hard, lest they use it as a cause to rally behind. But we cannot leave them be for they are too numerous, too unpredictable, too full of violence to not be watched, checked, prepared for. Fortunately their obvious threat helps the alliances with our sister states. The machinations of the Dark Emperors might be too subtle to spot, but the Badders are the fire that forges us into the weapon to defeat them.