- The hauntings continue—Saturday, August 13th, 2016
The Haunting, with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor, is a pretty good retelling of The Haunting of Hill House, with permission. It’s a decent, though heavily flawed, psychological thriller until the over-the-top CGI at the end.
The high point of the film is the decent—and I mean that sincerely—acting by all involved. The film’s greatest lack is that Liam Neeson is woefully underused. His character, despite being the lynchpin of the plot, doesn’t actually do much. It looks as though there was supposed to be tension about whether he was causing all or some of the hauntings but if so it was negated by perspectiveless scenes in which we see that the haunting is real. This also removes the other tension, which was the possibility that Eleanor is going crazy and hallucinating everything. If it’s happening when she isn’t present, then she’s not.
A lot of the tension was squandered by keeping things from the viewer that the characters knew (or thought they knew). We have no idea, for example, that Liam Neeson’s character might have invited Eleanor specifically until we find out that he didn’t.
We are never told why he has chosen the house or how he gained access to it. In the book, one of the heirs to the house accompanies them; his character is dropped from this version, but there’s a sort of completely wasted twist that plays on it.
For the new movie, they exchanged the old paranormal research subplot for fear research, but that makes these people nothing special. In the book, the psychic potential of the subjects awakens the house; in this version the house, presumably, is always awake. Except that it isn’t: as in any good horror movie, the house wakes up slowly, perhaps fed by blood. Or perhaps not, because by the end of the movie it seems that the house has been awake all along, and able to affect happenings far, far away.
- Vampires of York—Saturday, July 30th, 2016
Forget the werewolves of London. According to the July/August 2016 Archaeology a graveyard in Driffield Terrace in York contains Roman Empire-era men with their heads chopped off, the skulls buried “nearby”.
Some archaeologists are calling them gladiators, but according to University of St. Andrews archaeologist Jon Coulson,
…the idea that they had been gladiators [is] “wishful thinking.” Beheading wasn’t common for gladiators—or criminals, for that matter. Coulson says, “I see no connection between decapitation and gladiatorial displays.”
Archaeologists may be confused, but we know what decapitation means: some form of undead that can only be killed by removal of the head and separation of body parts.
I found a lot of other articles about the site, most of which posit either gladiatorial or military explanations for the skeletons. All of them mention the decapitation angle and then completely ignore it. Almost as if they know the truth but are conspiring not to panic the public… only the Guardian offers support for the gladiatorial theory, but that support is frightening:
Other theories about the grave have included a pagan rite involving decapitation, or a pogrom against a minority group such as Christians, but evidence for either is lacking. Gladiators were brought into the debate in earnest three years ago, when the discovery of burials of arena combatants at Ephesus in Turkey revealed a similar combination of hammer blows to the skull and decapitation as at York.
Ephesus is old Anatolia. That’s where young Vlad Dracul gained his power. Let’s hope the archaeologists aren’t storing the heads and the bodies in the same location…
- How I handle adventure logs—Saturday, July 16th, 2016
Having recently read the old TSR Adventure Logs AD&D accessory for tracking game sessions, I’ve been thinking about what I do to remember old adventures and keep up-to-date on what’s about to happen.
I keep it pretty simple. I type it up in a word processor—in my case, Nisus Writer Pro. It’s important to use a tool that makes it easy not only to write1, or to search, but also to organize. For me, this means a word processor that supports the-document-is-the-outline. Microsoft Word does this, too, but I find that Nisus is easier to navigate and faster to write with.
The outline ends up looking like:
- Adventure 1
- Session 1
- Session 2
- Adventure 2
- Adventure 1
- Illustrious Castle
- Illustrious Castle April 17, 2004
- Illustrious Castle April 24, 2004
- Valley of the Blue Sun
- Valley of the Blue Sun December 18, 2004
- Valley of the Blue Sun December 24, 2004
- Illustrious Castle
- Road to Weaving April 23, 2005
- Weaving May 7, 2005
- Dowanthal Peak
- Dowanthal Peak June 18, 2005
Having the outline makes it very easy to drill down to a particular session according to when we held it. I’m not sure, but if I were to do it again I might instead use the in-game date instead of the session date. As it is, I have the in-game year at the top level, and then the real session date for each entry.
On the other hand, in-game dates don’t always change per session, so perhaps I’d leave it be.
Each entry basically has three parts: what I expected to need to remember, which I wrote before the session, and then what happened during the session, which I wrote up the day after. Finally, from what happened I made a list of experience-laden events.
- The Dungeon Master’s Adventure Log—Saturday, July 2nd, 2016
I had a fairly spotty source for gaming materials back in 1980–1981. My aunt and uncle in another town over had a variety store, and my cousins stocked one corner with TSR products. I’m not sure how much money they made on it, because they were probably their primary customers, and I and my brother got the family discount. That’s where I first picked up AD&D material, the Players Handbook, which added a third ruleset to our hybrid game, adding to the Holmes Blue Book that our DM had and the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert boxes that I got for Christmas.
I don’t recall ever seeing the Dungeon Masters Adventure Log back in the day. I must have heard about it, as I attempted to recreate the basic idea for some of the games we played—mainly Men & Supermen. The Adventure Log is very much focused on dungeon adventures, with its emphasis on light sources and marching order in corridors. Each set of facing pages has space for listing characters on the left, and monsters/adventure information on the right. Pre-computer, this sort of thing would be very useful for recording what has happened to the characters in the past, as well as providing a summary of the last adventure for the DM to plan the next adventure.
Some of the other useful features are illustrations of common armor types as well as some of the less common weapons, that is, the weapons that players might not be able to easily envision. This means lots of pole arms for the most part. Back in the day, I used to wonder at TSR’s obsession with pole arms—so many illustrations were these weapons we never used. But in retrospect, everyone knew what a sword looked like, and few of us knew what a glaive-guisarme looked like. It made sense to overload the illustrations with more obscure weapons.
Another useful feature for those of us starting games from scratch would have been the example of use. It contained what looked like—and probably were—real characters from real games.
The Adventure Log also has lots of tables that may be useful during play, such as chances of encounters per terrain, chances of becoming lost, movement rates for various forms of movement, and so forth. The examples of calculating surprise emphasize just how ad-hoc and annoying the surprise rules were in AD&D.
- Giant walking tanks that eat everything in their path—Saturday, June 18th, 2016
In the March 19, 2016, issue of Science News, Helen Thompson writes about ancient armadillos. Just as armored, although less flexible, than their smaller modern descendants these things could weigh over four tons and be as big as a small car.
What does a 4,000 pound armadillo crush in your campsite? Whatever it wants! What does it eat? Avocados. It just swallows them whole and shits out the seed.
No wonder they were so big. And I’ll bet they tasted pretty good, too. But these creatures could defend themselves with more than just their massive weight. Some of them even had large, mace-like spiked tails. Technically, paleontologists think they used the tail to fight amongst themselves, since the tail seems designed to break the glyptodon’s own bony carapace.
I’m guessing it would work pretty well against metal armor, too. And that anyone wearing plates of metal would be very uncomfortable after their armor became heavily dented, if not punctured, in a fight with one of these massive creatures.
Why would you want to fight them? Well, besides the avocado-fed tastiness, their shells were big enough to provide protection against rain and wind. Other than unreliable evidence for human predation, however, “the evidence for predation on glyptodonts is very scarce”. Not surprising. I would not, in fact, be surprised if most of the human-used glyptodon shells came from already-dead glyptodons.
A village of giant armadillo shells would certainly make an interesting place to visit.
These creatures lived alongside the giant ground sloth (which already appears in the Encounter Guide).
- 992 9 September 28 (epilogue)—Saturday, June 4th, 2016
In the final session of Thracia, we gamed for only about half an hour: after a lot of summer travel, we wanted to get together and move the game forward but we also wanted to just talk. One of the players needed to be in bed by 9 PM; our normal get-together time was 6:30, then eating and talking and drinking, then gaming. In this game we started at about 8:15.
I suggested that if they did what they planned to do—head out of the Lost City into the jungle—it would take about five minutes, and then they would have completed the adventure and I could give them their experience points.
I had rolled wandering monsters ahead of time for a few days, just in case, and there were none in the first sixteen hours.
So, they ran to the jungle, and then chose to go directly north1. It was about mid-late evening when they started, and they went until just after dark before climbing one of the huge canopy trees to set camp. The tree idea was Eddie’s: it’s what saurians do to avoid night encounters. Of course, Eddie’s people eat spiders and other bugs that might live in trees…
After handing out experience points, Zah Eil achieved fifth level. He added his new level to Prophet, so that after this adventure he was a 2nd level Warrior, 3rd level Prophet. Riana reached sixth level, so she became a 6th level Prophet. Among the spirit manifestations she gained access to were the ability to turn into a tree, and have discussions spanning sixty miles by way of plant life.
Eddie still had that three-injury loss of his tail. He’d healed two of it, but until it heals completely it still counts as a penalty of three. Eddie also had two injuries from the giant bats.
The lizard king was following Zah Eil, or, more specifically, the tablet of the arts, invisibly. It had a potion of fire resistance, as well as all of its spells except one teleportation, invisibility, and summon elemental. It had three injuries, and 24 survival remaining out of 57. In the future I did give them hints and the occasional perception roll in places where a giant invisible flying lizard following them might be noticed. But it was invisible, and it was flying.
Zah Eil still did not have a holy symbol, which limited the spirit manifestations he could use. But he could tell—feel—that there was a symbol of Ishtar for him to the East, along the direction of the Road.
- 992 9 September 28, 6 PM—Saturday, May 28th, 2016
After a discussion about whether to leave the caverns (and face the tyrannosaur) or go deeper into the ruins (and check out the treasure, and hopefully find a shortcut to the City), they chose to go deeper.
Zah Eil and Riana led the way; Majelica and Eddie the Lizard went next, and Owen and Alvin followed behind. They used the existing torchlight from the walls for light, and Owen’s magical light from behind.
Zah Eil examined the altar on the balcony overlooking the chasm, while Eddie kept lookout over the bridge. “It’s been used,” he said, “and in the last few days, for blood sacrifices.” Zah Eil was also pretty sure they used cups or something like cups.
And they crossed the bridge; as they got toward the center of the bridge, Owen—the light-bearer—was attacked by giant bats, and completely surprised. Fortunately, he did not fall off the bridge. Four bats attacked him; one successfully bit him as he flailed at them. Suddenly, ten bats were swirling around the group and attacking. Most couldn’t get through any of the armor, but Eddie, who was already out of survival, gained two injuries from a giant bat bite. Owen took seven points, gaining seven injuries.
Riana talked to the bats and managed to calm them down. But by this time Owen was dying; Zah Eil figured if they kept him still and safe, he had only a few hours to live. Zah Eil called on the spirits of Ishtar to heal three points and then again for seven points, bringing Owen up to three survival. Owen would now survive, but was still unconscious. As part of her conversation with the bats, Riana promised that they would leave the bridge alone, so the group dragged Owen across the bridge to the other side1
They chose to avoid the bear and the treasure chests, because they weren’t sure if there were guards still in the treasure room.2 They investigated the other end. Through the secret door and thin hallway Eddie was pretty sure the door was easily openable, but man, did it smell on the other side. Riana identified the smell as wolverine musk and waste.
Alvin recognized that the secret area was still trafficked, so it wasn’t a good place to camp out anyway.
So they went to the other doors, which weren’t secret, and found long stairs leading down. And the smell of rotting corpses, which Zah Eil was pretty sure were human.3
- 992 9 September 28, 5 PM—Saturday, May 21st, 2016
When Owen returned from scouting the lair of the Enkian priests, he waxed rhapsodic to the others about treasure chests in a back room, but emphasized that getting to them meant going through nine Enkian guards. The others—especially Majelica—wanted to escape the underground; but no one had ideas on how to get past the tyrannosaur.
The stairs flipped back to stairs rather than a slide, but that just made it easier for them to be eaten by a dinosaur.
They hatched a plan to get through the five visible guards: the two on the other side of the bridge, and the three around the corner of the intersection twenty or so feet beyond the end of the bridge. The plan called for Owen to sleep the two at the bridge; Owen, Majelica, Alvin, and Eddie would then rush across; Alvin and Eddie would start tying the guards up, and Owen and Majelica would sleep the three guards beyond the intersection—those guards didn’t yet know that the party was aware of them.
Alvin pre-cut some rope to have it ready to tie everyone up.
To fill out your scorecard, the two guards are Daneil and Marmin, and the three plate-mailed guards around the intersection are Beilgar, Beilshar, and Bahrein.
The four that show up in round four, that Owen did not account for in his plan, are Shalm, Barirpal, Tirar, and Kordok.
Owen focused a sleep spell on the two guards, such that they had a penalty of 3 to their reactions. This meant that they only saved on a one or a two; and Daneil made his save with a 1. Since they were expecting some sort of attack (though with spears rather than magic, since they’re not familiar with it), Daneil attacked back, recognizing Owen as the source (Daneil and Marmin are prophets, after all). Daneil used a weather spirit to cast foul air around Owen, and it stuck. Owen had two rounds of activity before he was going to run completely out of breath.
Daneil blew a whistle; no one heard anything. But the three plate-mailed guards at the intersection came around.