gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
So in our last thrilling installment, I started looking at the Black Death, and how a good plague can create an interesting environment for role-playing games. A mass-casualty event like the plague creates an Edge, that wonderful place and time where adventures can happen with little worry about society and law coming down on the good times. So, let us explore the wonderful world of a post magical plague apocalypse.

For ease of reference, I'm going to be using examples based in 14th century Europe rather than a game setting. Simply because everyone has a vague idea of where Paris is, whereas many of you might not even have heard of Greyhawk. These examples can, of course, be used where your fancy wishes.

Let's start by assuming that the last vestiges of the plage burned out several years ago. What does the world look like? Well, for one thing, there's a lot more elbow room. given that anywhere between a third and half of all people living in Europe in 1347 were dead by 1352, huge holes have been ripped in every part of the civilized world. There are far fewer peasants to till the fields. The cities are emptied from both death and people fleeing. The Feudal order has been shattered, as entire lines of fealty no longer exist.

What does this mean for your game? Opportunity. Abandoned castles will be taken over by brigands or monsters in short order, and need clearing. If you want, you can leave an entire city empty, waiting for bold explorers to find out why everyone left, and no one has returned. Assuming that the dwarf holdings were equally hard hit you have emptied dwarvish mines and cities to explore. Same goes for elf-forests. They might be left to the wild, or maybe some elves still lurk, determined that no one shall ever enter again.

But there's another opportunity here, and that's the social one. Medieval society wasn't big on social advancement. If you were born a villein, you stayed a villein in death, and the laws of God and man decreed how you could dress, what meals you ate and when, and even what you could own. These sumptuary laws were designed to keep the mass of peasants in their place and prevent the increasingly rich bourgeoisie of the towns from putting on too many airs by dressing better than the local knight.

However, despite frantic efforts by the authorities in the late 14th century, these laws were unenforceable. Those peasants may have taken over a wine press and acres of vineyards from an abandoned monastery and are now a profitable collective. That low-born brawler fell in with a band of sell-swords and wears knightly gear that he earned in battle. The local town burghers freed briefly from taxation, make themselves equal to the now-departed barons by fiat and the power of gold and silver. It is a time when the bold can take what they can, and try to hold on.

Which is something I find lacking in many games, the sense of permanence. We like to build for the future, find security, and be able to say "Behold Swamp Castle, my home!" I like options that let characters gain titles and honors, obtain land grants, and transition into a different sort of game.

Digression over, back to miserable Europe.

Humans being humans, (and elves being elves, etc.) the window for this Edge is small. Local order will so expand to regional order to national order. But given the scope of most RPGs, this presents no real stumbling block. Player-characters can rise from obscurity to the toast of Paris and champions of His Majesty Roi Jean le Bon in short order. The careful DM should have a schedule of events so that when the characters return from the ruin dwarf mines of Mt. White they can learn of the news at the first inn.

One final thing. In the last post, I alluded to the gods no longer answering prayers or sending divine magic. This could be a major plot point in the bigger campaign. I'd keep divine ritual and the power of holy relics, but wherever the plague went, the gods themselves fled. Once again you have a great point for societal breakdown. If the gods don't answer, maybe the devils will! You could have an entire campaign of rooting out evil cults and witches. Perhaps the players' paladins and cleric are the first since the plague to find a new mandate from the Gods.

It's your game world. Blow it up every so often and see what happens!
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
Back to this after I had my perfect January ruined by the AT&T outage. Harrumph. But still, I made a promise to (a site anyone looking to make writing a habit should look into) and when I next get paid I shall be donating ten bucks for the cause of keeping things going.

But while not being able to write on the site, not to mention watch every single episode of Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away on YouTube (seriously, that show is addictive, and has led me to learn a great deal about how British courts and local governments work) I did dive into my reading, which includes "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" by Barbara W. Tuchman, a marvelous history of the 1300s that loosely looks at the era through the life experiences of one noble, Enguerrand VII, Lord of Coucy (1340 – 18 February 1397.)

One of those events, of course, was the Black Death. Running at its height from 1347 to 1351, the plague devastated Europe, killing an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and wiping out huge swaths of population and civilization. This interests me from a fantasy world-building perspective on two points.

First of all, during the plague blame fell on the Jews of Europe. Despite the fact they were dying just as fast as everyone else, their otherness and visibility caused mass outbreaks of violence against them. The Church, while at first trying to hold society together by tamping down such mass hysteria, eventually gave in and quietly allowed pogroms to occur. The result was mass expulsions of Jews - the ones who survived that long, that is - and as always, Chruch confiscation of their goods.

Now picture a magical plague of some sort. Perhaps one victim in time rises as a zombie. Or the plague is spread at first by an unprecedented set of orc swarms spreading disease and waste over huge areas. Whatever, the gods aren't answering prayers and kingdoms are falling to sickness and ruin all around. How is going to get blamed? Who, in a fantastic medieval society is separated by their very existence? Who speaks in a mysterious language and is regularly accused of consorting with demons? Who is vastly outnumbered, but envied for their perceived wealth?

Arcane spellcasters. Given the mechanics of Vancian magics as used by D&D, low and mid-level mages aren't going to survive the mob. Oh, sure, they might blow holes in it, and perhaps set Munich on fire. Again. But mages will find themselves dead or ordered to leave at the point of the entire Unearthed Arcana polearm table. After which, those now abandoned wizardly laboratories and caves will be merrily looted by idiots who don't realize that Fritz the Wizard cursed everything before he left.

Which will result in a fine distribution of magical goodies all over Europe (or your preferred setting.) Because a nice curse would be to force the holder of any stolen goods to also wander far and wide; much like the classic Roma curse, "never cross the same river twice in one year, never sleep in the same place two nights in a row" forces the cursed individual to keep moving.

Another option is to have Fritz, assuming he has time, curse his items in a way that creates a compulsion to bring the stolen goods to a "safe house" that Fritz knew about in advance. A crumbling old watchtower, an abandoned dwarf mine, or his sister's place in Bremen. Which unfortunately is overrun with plague zombies. Oops.

The idea is of course to create opportunities. Have the party find Fritz's body. I will wait for all of you to stop quoting Wizards before moving on. On him are the clues to where he had his compelled victims take his things. Bingo, instant campaign goal. Especially if Fritz was a careful record keeper and had a drool-inducing list of what he cursed.

In Fritz's case, the curse in a Compulsion-style spell that forces the victim to take the object to a point, drop it, and return home. Lots of ways to play with that, like the spell failing on the "return home" part and the players battling across Europe to find an empty cave or worse, an extremely annoyed zombie Hausfrau.

Tomorrow I'll explore the fun times to be had in this post-apocalyptic setting. One thing the plague was very good at was upsetting to social applecart and creating opportunities. But I'll leave you with this thought. When Jews began returning to Central Europe after the plague burned out, suspicious authorities ordered them to obey restrictive laws, including a requirement to wear an identifying badge or garment. In most places, it was a yellow circle of cloth pinned to the tunic or vest. But some cities required something more prominent.

A tall, conical hat.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
“Come on, Lukas, they’ve almost boxed us in!” I paused under the low ceiling of a canal bridge to let my older brother catch up. I tried to control his panting, dredging up what my old martial arts instructor had taught me because I knew that the circling drones of the Garda would zero in on the warmth of my escaping breath.
It gets better, but not for our hero. )
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Neither Kirsten nor I are hoarders. You can walk into our apartment and it will be a little cluttered, sure, but you can navigate the space without resorting to tunnels, having to clamber over furniture, or dodging unstable towers of junk. But there is clutter, and I've been in a years-long battle with it.

The problem stems from our hobbies. We are both avid readers, so books pile up and we are torn by the thought of getting rid of them. We are both passionate about music, so we have stacks and stacks of CDs. Same goes for the DVDs of our "must-have" movies and TV shows. Kirsten knits and crochets so there is yarn everywhere and she also makes candles, requires another set of supplies that need to be stored.

Me? I play role-playing games. I've been playing, running, and writing for games since 1977 when my brother Craig bout the science-fiction RPG Traveller home from a convention. His gaming group didn't want to play it, so I became his test subject and was hooked from the start. I started collecting materials for RPGs and playing at every opportunity.

But here's the thing about gaming. Unlike a traditional board game like Monopoly, where you buy a set and are done, the money in RPGs comes from selling more and more books, adventures and accessories to the customer. Traveller, as an example, came in a black box with three little black books, each measuring 5½ x 8¾ inches and each having 48 pages. That was enough to get a game going, but the players wanted more and Game Designers Workshop, the publisher - wanted our money. So a stream of books followed that over time established an official setting. Licesened third-party designers added to the mix.

By the time I was sixteen I had three cardboard bank boxes filled with nothing but Traveller material. That wasn't counting my other games. That stuff followed me through my life until I took a look around my apartment one day in late 2009 and realized that we had far too much for our living space. I bought a book titled "It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff" by Peter Walsh, and began studying.

One of the most important things I learned is holding onto things because "I have good memories attached to the item" or "Someday I might use it again" were toxic. I looked at my RPG collection - which at that point filled about ten feet of bookshelves - and decided that if I was going to get serious about reducing the clutter in my life, I had to cut where it would hurt the most: my game collection.

But how to do it? Trying to sell everything on eBay would be long and involved, and could end up being more hassle than it was worth. Renting a table at the local game store for one of their flea market days might work, but I've been to those and see that most stuff doesn't move. I sat down to think through the problem logically. What was my goal here? Remove most of my collection. Not making a tone of money. After that, it was clear.

In January 2010 I announced The Great Sale on my social media and on several RPG mailing lists. The rules were simple. I posted a list of everything that was for sale, and interested parties were to mail me with a list of what they wanted and an offer. I set no prices and made it clear that I wanted this stuff gone, so no even slightly reasonable offer would be refused. Name your price plus shipping. Then I sat back and waited.

Before I knew it I was getting inundated with offers. Som,e were quite reasonable, offering close to the expected price of the items. Some were bold, claiming a dozen things or more for a very low price. A few were amazing, offering $70 or more for a single copy of an old gaming book or magazine. In the end, I accepted every offer with a smile. Because along with achieving my goal of decluttering, I was helping others fill in their collections at their own price.

There were a couple of people who couldn't handle the concept of telling me what they wanted to pay, and one guy who got angry that I wasn't selling this stuff on eBay where he could "bid on it honestly" which gave me a few laughs, but in a few short weeks, I reduced the pile of stuff drastically, made a few hundred bucks, and felt ready to tackle the rest of the problem.

Be decluttering is an on-going process. Since 2010 I've held two more Great Sales, further winnowing the RPG collection down to size. Today, I keep games I play, run, wrote for, and anything I have credit in or I feel is an exemplary bit of writing that I can use in my own work.

The apartment is still cluttered, but the clutter is under control.
gridlore: Hand-held Stop sign raised against the sky (Stop Sign)
Ah, the human factor. It gets into everything. This morning I was supposed to be covering a corner at Eisenhower School, morning and afternoon. I show up, get into my gear and set up my chair, just in time to see another guard pull up. The regular guard for this spot.

Turns out he asked for next Friday off. Called the boss and after checking, admitted the screw-up was on his end. So now I'm getting paid for the three hours I should have worked today (payroll went in yesterday, and it would be a huge headache to get the hours taken off) and have work next Friday already set up.

Nice to have a mistake work in my favor for once.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Today I worked a corner that was quite the physical challenge. Right in front of the school with two uncontrolled crosswalks to cover. Uncontrolled means there is no traffic light or pedestrian signal. It's all on me to gauge breaks in traffic and groups of kids to make crossings.

Since I was covering two streets, this also meant I was hopping to keep up with parents who couldn't wait ten seconds for me to clear one road before moving to another. As a result, I had to move as fast as I could, whistle in mouth, to make sure that I was at least trying to cover everyone. Crazy corner, to be sure. But fun, as the kids and parents were great. I'm covering this same corner Monday afternoon.

But all this rushing made me think about how far I've come in my stroke recovery. Right after the stroke back in the summer of 2013, I could walk, but not very well. I suffered from balance issues as well as some fairly severe proprioception problems that had to be addressed before I could be trusted to safely walk around unsupervised.

Proprioception, in case you didn't know, is your real sixth sense. It is your brain's ability to know the position of your various limbs without seeing them. If you want an example of how this works, find something near you that you can pick up. Close your eyes, and do just that. Your brain has mapped where the object is and knows where your hand and are during the entire exercise. Losing proprioception means your mental perception of limb positioning can be off by pretty significant factors. My right foot, for example, could feel several inches from its actual location. Which can be deadly if you are walking down a flight of stairs.

This was a big part of my physical rehabilitation, both in- and out-patient. Just walking; first with a walker, then a cane, and finally with no support. Eyes closed, eyes open, forwards, backward, up stairs and down . . . I was making my brain build new pathways to monitor body position and balance. There was also the tile box, a fiendish contraption that put me - well secured by a safety harness - on a tilting platform while watching a scene that was moving in a different way. This really challenges even people with no brain damage.

But it all worked. I was able to walk, with a cane for the first few years, and gradually became more and more active. I now only use the cane when I am feeling poorly. Because the issues I dealt with are still there, and they do come out when I'm tired or stressed. One of the reasons I've come to love my bright orange shoes (other than the Giants reference) is that I can see them at the edge of my field of vision as I walk, and just that glimpse of orange is enough to snap my perception of where my foot is back in line with reality.

So I've been walking more and more. To be honest, my legs have always been my best feature and as a former Infantryman, walking is in my blood. Walking, whether in the park or at the gym or at the mall, also helps slow the progress of my peripheral neuropathy. So I get out whenever I can, and is one of the reasons I love my current job.

I've even signed up to do two 5Ks this year. Kirsten started doing them and has a blast, so why not? Another milestone, no pun intended, to show that I am healing. I might even train to walk a 10K at some point. Keep getting better is my motto, and of course, I have Drill Sergeants living rent-free in my brain that keep pushing me to go a little bit farther every day.

You will notice that throughout this piece I have specified walking. There is a really good reason for that. During my physical therapy, we learned that I simply am no longer built for running. My brain can't handle the coordination required to get that kind of motion, and I quickly lose my balance or lose track of where my right foot is. The best I can manage is a slow jog or a brisk walk.

But I'm in no real hurry to get anywhere, to be honest. My days of needing to be first in line or the first to get something are long behind me. I'm just happy that I'm still able to get there on foot.
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I've been immersing myself in the D&D rulebooks because I really don't want to be the DM who is constantly stopping play to look something up. I like my games to be organized and to have options ready for when the players gleefully run in the opposite direction of my well-crafted adventure.

I think this is why dungeon crawls are such a standard. There's really little more to do than move along to the next encounter on the map. Those kinds of adventures have their place, but not as a steady diet. I like to mix in other things, like political thrillers where the characters get caught up in the machinations of a noble's court and have to find solutions that don't involve slaying. Or pulling out the Man v. Nature trope, where simply surviving the elements is the challenge. This is where having a shelf filled books on plots and characters comes in handy.

I'm also a great fan of using in medias res as a campaign tool. No "you all happen to be at the same inn, a wizard approaches you" bullshit. Get to the action! One of my favorites is starting the characters in a shipwreck or on the losing side of a battle. Being in a besieged city that is about to fall to a monstrous horde can forge quick bonds as the characters struggle to escape. Get things moving right from the start, even if the action is only a prologue to the actual campaign.

When planning out a campaign, I love to use scenes and flow charts. I can write a specific set of scenes covering major events in, say, the City-State of the Invincible Overlord (a module I only ever got to admire from afar, alas,) that allow me to move things to where I want them while still accounting for the players' actions and decisions. I can look at the list and mark some scenes as vital, others are transitions, and so on.

This gives me better in-game control of the flow. If the players don't pursue the thief in the marketplace or fail to catch him, I can seamlessly move to another scene that will establish the same basic goals of the missed opportunity, which might be a hint that the city sewers are hiding a terrible secret. Or something.

The goal is to have a tool in front of me that aids my mechanical running of the game so I can focus on the fun of role-playing the entire world. Having this planned plot also shows me points where I may have to improvise, so I can make notes. To take the market scene, I need to think about what I'll do if the party's rogue decides to use the confusion of the hue and cry of the thief escaping for some petty larceny of her own.

Another tool I use is a chart of pre-generated die rolls. In D&D, this can be a list of d20 rolls, as that is the most common type of roll called for. This really speeds up the game because it speeds up the actions of my NPCs and monsters. Rather than having to roll each time, I just check the next number on my list and use that. Admittedly, online platforms like make die rolling for initiative, attacks, and other rolls extremely easy, I still like my cheat sheet to save time.

I've also found that combat trackers, even when playing online, are a great tool to speed play along. Having all the encounter information in one place right in front of your eyes makes combat, which really can be a time drag in a game, fly by. Again, there are great online resources for this, and I am exploring them.

But probably the best tool I have as a game master is preparation. I always try to have several "stock" encounters planned for when a session needs some excitement. I can even build encounter stacks, the same basic encounter with increasing levels of difficulty. Chewed through my squad or orcs? Try three squads with a leader type and a war shaman. Having the stats and details ready to do when needed keeps the game moving.

Back in the Army, we had a very alliterative saying: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I know for a fact, from both my military days and my career as a commercial driver, that this is as true as it gets. So I apply this to my gaming. Oh, sure, sometimes it's fun to fly off the handle and roll on improv mode, but I am happiest when I have players who are into the game and not so concerned with the mechanics of the system, and that's what my tricks do.
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. - J.R.R. Tolkien

Treasure has been a staple of fantasy RPGs since the beginning, used as a tactile reward for slaying monsters and looting their hoards. The concept of a monster guarding a great treasure is a very old concept going back to the oldest recorded myths. But, having studied how medieval economies actually worked, the amazing amount of cash in most fantasy settings boggles the mind.

Remember that in Western Europe monies was fixed to the value of a pound of silver. In England, the Pound was divided into 20 shillings. Each Shilling was worth 12 pence. It should be noted that for most of the period pence were the only coins actually minted, with pounds and shillings being accounting units or measurements of silver bars. The penny was 1.5 grams of mostly-pure silver. If you managed to accumulate 320p you'd have a bag of coins weighing pretty close to one pound.

That's how coins worked. England and France used silver because they had access to silver mines. Gold becomes more common as you head east. Constantine introduced the Solidus, a nearly pure gold coin weighing a hefty 4.5 grams, in the early 4th century. After endless debasement by later emperors, it was replaced by the Hyperpyron in the 11th century. This coin was the same weight as the older coin but made with a lower gold content. It too could be divided into smaller coins, the number and value of these lesser coins changed over time.

The point of all this history is that generic gold pieces, and huge piles of them, simply aren't that good a reflection of history. In reality, if you showed up in Paris with 20 solidi in your pouch, the money changer would measure your coins by weight, and pay you in silver deniers. The actual value of your coins is dependant on the whims of the moneychangers.

So spice up those treasure hordes! An ancient tomb is likely to have ancient coins, which the moneychangers will happily weight and take their commission on. But trying to spend it? It's not real money to the innkeeper. He might take it in trade, but you'll get skinned. Historically, when large payments were made by nobles bars of precious metals were used. Far more likely that the dragon is sleeping on a pile of one-pound gold bars and silver plate than endless coins.

Which brings up another thing. No matter how it got there, a treasure is going to be a lot of things as opposed to money. Think of King Tut's burial site. Tons of gold things, some quite heavy, much of it covered in jewels you can pry off. But if the orc raiders have stolen a 7-foot marble and gold statue of a goddess, good luck getting it home! (This is where portable holes come in handy.)

Tapestries, art objects, amber panels, ivory thrones . . . in the medieval world wealth was generally tied up in things. Read the Nibelungenlied and you'll see that the wealth of various characters is shown through the ownership of rich clothing, and having more than one good shirt! A noble's good court tunic could be worth a king's ransom. Think about your treasures, and things will be more interesting than just accounting sheets filled with various generic coins.

Now we must consider magical treasures. I for one prefer low magic games. I like magic to be mysterious and dangerous. One standard trope for RPG settings is there was a distant magical golden age where all these amazing items were made, and then the age ended in some sort of cataclysm that left the items scattered to the four winds.

I'm good with this but make magic hard. In my view, and potent magic item required one hell of a lot of effort from the enchanter making it. So powerful magical items will be imbued with a cause or desire. As an example, in my world there is but one Vorpal Blade. It was forged long ago to deal with an ancient black dragon who could only be killed by decapitation. Assuming someone is lucky enough to find this legendary blade, it will work for him. But the blade will be drawn to combat black dragons. No matter what the risk.

To quote Gandalf, "There are many magic rings in this world, Bilbo Baggins, and none of them should be used lightly." Finding a magical item should raise not elation but caution among your players. I tend to be a bit restrictive on divination magic, so just understand what this ring/staff/helmet is could require a side quest to an ancient monastery to search their records. Of course, you get there to learn that something has been killing the monks one by one, and can the characters please help?

I'm an advocate of making the game fascinating at every turn. Going through the treasure list should be a part of the game that inspires the imagination as much as any other aspect. Oh, and when coming out of the tomb of King Arglebargle IV loaded down with loot? Be careful of the King's taxmen. They'll be waiting for you.
gridlore: Photo: Rob Halford on stage from the 1982 "Screaming for Vengeance" tour (Music - Rob Halford)
Halford's Stompy Boots, they've made it hard to use one of their most basic features.

  1. Ghost - Cirice

  2. Ghost B.C. - Spirit

  3. Judas Priest - Dragonaut

  4. Thy Art Is Murder - Light Bearer

  5. Behemoth - Conquer All

  6. Anthrax - Neon Knight

  7. Clutch - D.C. Sound Attack!

  8. Mastodon - Oblivion

  9. Slayer - Disciple

  10. Bruce Dickinson - Abduction

  11. Ghost - Stand By Him

  12. Ghost B.C. - From The Pinnacle To The Pit

  13. Testament - More Than Meets the Eye

  14. Anthrax - Soror Irrumator

  15. Machine Head - Hallowed Be Thy Name

  16. Slayer - War Ensemble

  17. Judas Priest - Halls Of Valhalla

  18. Parkway Drive - Vice Grip

  19. Metallica - Ronnie Rising Medley (feat. A Light In the Black, Tarot Woman, Stargazer & Kill the King)

  20. Behemoth - Prometherion

  21. Ghost B.C. - If You Have Ghosts

  22. Ghost B.C. - I'm A Marionette

  23. Black Sabbath - God Is Dead?

  24. Slayer - Hell Awaits

  25. Testament - Into the Pit

gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
Work continues on my modified Earthdawn setting, which brings me to the subject of non-human races and monsters. Both of which seem to fill most fantasy settings to the brim with all sorts of demi-humans and odd beasties to fight.

We'll start with the intelligent races that are generally considered civilized. Humans, elves, dwarfs, halflings (hobbits with the serial numbers filed off), gnomes, and in more recent editions of D&D, tieflings, and Dragonborn. There are more to be found in various setting books and expansions, but these are the core, mostly derived from European mythology as seen through more modern sources like Tolkien.

The problem here is that humans can't get along with each other for more than five minutes, and have a long, long history of finding reasons to hate each other for variations in skin color, language, customs, or just for existing and being different. I'm trying to imagine how a multi-species environment could exist except as in a state of near constant warfare. Because let's face it; the elves will be looking out for their interests, as will the dwarfs, halflings, and everyone else. Sure, there will be peace treaties and trade, and in some places, you'll have things like dwarf cities with a "foreigners' district" and human cities with the "dwarvish quarter" - probably with walls and its own gate to prevent riots.

But even at that, there will still be misunderstandings, holy wars, and plenty of "we don't serve them squats here!" to be dealt with. I'm beginning to think that, at the start at least, a human-only party would be best. Maybe a dwarf. But since this city has been sealed from the outside world for centuries, odds are it is going to be pretty homogenous if it survived that long.

Then there are the monsters. One thing that has driven me nuts about most fantasy games I've been in is how ecologically out of whack everything is. Big carnivores are rare for a reason! Yet most fantasy world have slavering monstrosities every fifty feet! I understand the need to publish more books to keep the income stream flowing, but the endless books of monsters have only made things worse, as Game Masters feel compelled to add new and better monsters to the game, rather than fully develop a few choice examples and make them ongoing foes. I've often wanted to do a campaign where the push is the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, except instead of Mongols the invaders are Hobgoblins and Orcs. The pull is needing to discover who or what is behind this horde, and stop it before civilization is swamped!

That campaign would feature at most five or six monster types, and the challenge would be not just bashing foes, but out-thinking an army. You could go any of several ways with this, commando raids, raising armies yourself, questing for the magical MacGuffin that will allow you to turn the tide. In my dream campaign, all three happen over the course of the game.

But since an important factor in this game is that the general power-level of the world's magic has fallen from the peak that allowed the Horrors to invade in the first place; I'm going to make most monsters a mystery. Other than a few scraps of rumors from just before the cities sealed themselves into their Kaers, everything is going to be new to the characters. Which means that I can play with abilities and powers a bit, just in case someone has memorized the Monster Manual.

Yes, I'm an evil Game Master. I revel in it. While I don't go for Total Party Kills as a rule, I like to make players work for their experience points and treasure. Besides, fear of the unknown is one of the great fears, and being an old Call of Cthulhu player, I like a little fear in my games. The best part is there is an entire category of monsters, Aberrations, which are defined as totally alien to the Prime Material Plane. What better for leftover Horrors and minions? Along with legions of undead, twisted descendants of fallen Kaers, awoken dragonkind, and a few others. But all in moderation and all fully developed.

So there are my thoughts - some of them, anyway - on non-human intelligent species and monsters, both in general and as they relate to my Earthdawn setting. I'm not throwing shade on how anyone else runs their games, but this is how I prefer to do mine. Tomorrow, I'll write about treasure and magic items.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Jesus fucking Christ, what to say today? I've hit one of my low ebbs, a day where I feel worthless and sick. I'm not motivated to do anything, and I need to start moving. Just writing this is a struggle. I don't even have the brains for playing Civilization VI. What I really want to do is slump in front of the TV and watch Law & Order reruns until my eyes bleed.

Part of it is the winter blues. While we don't get WINTER like much of the rest of the nation, we do get short days, less sunlight, and colder temperatures that increase the levels of pain I feel. All of that triggers my urge to just hunker down and hibernate. Sadly, not being a bear, I can't really do that. Pity. I can see myself gorging on burritos through the summer for a long, gassy, winter nap.

I know that bears don't actually hibernate in the classical sense but instead can sleep for days with brief periods of activity, like shitting in the woods. Of course, with the government shutdown affecting our National Parks, the bears are now competing with idiot humans for the best shit in the woods spots. My money is on the bears.

Speaking of bears, there's now an active effort being made to re-introduce the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) to California as a replacement for the now extinct California Grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus.) As the Grizzly is the bear on our state flag, it would be nice to have a sustainable population back in Sierra Nevadas and the lower Cascades. Hopefully, they would eat some of the morons in our state and improve life in the Gold Country.

Yes, I'm a firm believer in moving us down a step on the predator ladder. I love wolves, bears, mountain lions, and all other apex predators. While driving for Super Shuttle I found myself facing a mountain lion as I searched for an address back in the Coast Range foothills early one morning. A beautiful animal, it had to be five feet long. It briefly froze in my headlights before slinking into the treeline. Considering most of my wildlife encounters were with skunks, this was a pleasant change.

I've also had the pleasure of hearing a mountain lion scream while camping. This was while I was still in Boy Scouts, and we were camping at Arroyo Seco. At O'dark thirty we all got woken up by the most demonic sound. Half roar, half pissed off steam engine. And it was close. It roared a few more times, and we could tell it was circling our camp. Next day, we found the remains of a deer several yards from our campsite and tracks that told the tale of one cat chasing off another from the kill.

Which brings us to deer. I like deer, and understand the need for deer hunting. We've destroyed the natural balance of predators to prey, and the deer are too dumb to notice that the wolf packs and big cats are gone. So we need to thin the herds, but see my comment above about reintroducing natural predators.

Much of my experience with deer came at Fort Benning, Ga. The training areas were a deer sanctuary, as hunting wasn't allowed on post. So almost every training exercise meant seeing deer. One of my platoon sergeants taught us the skill of tapping deer. This is sneaking up to a deer close enough to touch it. As deer have three modes: eat, fuck, and avoid predators, this was extremely hard. It was some of the best field craft training I ever had. I managed to touch a deer twice out of about 15 tries.

The other really cool encounter with deer came when my squad was moving along what can be described as a sunken trail. We had about two to three feet of red dirt earth on either side of this trail that wound its way through a fairly dense patch of pine forest. I've forgotten why we were doing this, probably a reconnaissance or setting up an ambush. But we heard a drumming sound, and my squad leader signaled for us to hunker down against the higher side of the trail. The sound got louder and suddenly a herd of deer were leaping over us. It was amazing. To see such magnificent animals in full exertion at such close range! One hoof hit my helmet. Not hard, but enough to rock me a little.

I had no idea where I was going when I started this and ended up talking about animals. Sometimes, you just let your brain wander.
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
In preparation for possibly running a hybrid D&D/Earthdawn game, I've been immersing myself in all the background material for the Barsaive setting, and I've discovered the thing that put me off Earthdawn in the first place.

It's all too settled. Advertised as a game of exploring a brave new world after the siege of the Horrors had lifted, what we get are well-established empires and kingdoms, regular trade, and in essence, a mature multi-state civilization. Which totally sucks, as far as I'm concerned.

I've often gone on about the concept of the Edge. The Edge is where adventures happen. The edge of civilization, the edge of the law, the edge of sanity . . . anyplace that is away from the comforts of civilization. Because a good adventure, either in gaming or fiction, has to take place in a setting where phoning the cops or running the local imperial garrison for help isn't an option. It needs to be a place where the heroes are forced to take action.

The funny thing is that historically speaking, Edges appear and vanish rather quickly. Take the classic Old West so beloved by dime novels and Hollywood. That panorama of bank robbers, sheriffs leading posses and showdowns at high noon did exist. For about twenty years at the most. The classic "Wild West" period is usually thought of lasting from about 1870 to 1890. That when you had thousands of Civil War vets moving west, railroads extending the reach of civilization, and the precipitous decline of the Native American nations due to war and disease opening up new territories for settlers.

This era brought with it men who had survived the horrors of the War Between the States and knew how to use guns. It brought fights over water rights, county seats, grazing rights, and of course, all that gold and silver coming out of California and Nevada just waiting to be taken. It was a heady, chaotic time. For about ten minutes in most places. Because humans are social animals and we crave safety. Towns screamed for the right to elect a sheriff or to have a US Marshal assigned to them. Vigilante groups sprung up across the Southwest, sometimes no better than the rustlers they were chasing. And very quickly, law and order took control.

Remember the famous gunfight at the OK Corral? Did you ever hear what set it off? Town Marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday were investigating that the "Cowboys" were in violation of a Tombstone town law requiring all firearms be checking at the Marshal's office. After the shootout, townspeople were so enraged that they put the Earps and Doc Holliday on trial for murder! (The charges were dismissed when no one could determine who fired first.)

That was in 1881. By 1890, the idea of gunslinging lawmen was nearly dead, as were most of the bandits. Things had become settled. The Edge was dulled.

Which is why setting the theme is so important in creating your Edge. Anything that upsets the world of your characters can do it. Yes, an invasion of orcs into the Kingdom of Competent Leadership and Low Tax Rates can create an edge. But so can discovering that a race of evil snake people live in the sewers, and have corrupt the entire court. Whit Wolf's World of Darkness games played with the latter sort of Edge; having all sorts of supernatural and magical creatures existing just below the surface of our mundane world.

So yeah, I'm rolling back the Earthdawn setting to a point where the Kaers (the fortified cities that withstood the assault of the Horrors. Mostly) are just opening, and the map is centuries out of date. Where history has become myth, and brave young adventurers are needed to reach out and learn about this new world, make contact with other opened Kaers, and boldly go where no man has gone . . .

Sorry. Couldn't help myself. But you see my point. This is one thing that has driven me nuts about Traveller's Third Imperium setting for years; there is no frontier to explore! Give me mysteries and unexplored places, strange new worlds and lost cities that have really been lost. Give me the Edge, take me out of the comfortable middle and make me think. That's what I ask of authors and game writers, and it is what I try to give as a Game Master. Hopefully, I will make a good job of it and entertain some players sometime soon.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
So, 2019 has wandered in and just made itself at home. In defiance of my personal promise to try to be more social, I'm sitting at home writing this while Kirsten is off at a "brunch" that has now extended into the early hours of the evening. I will try to be better about getting out and seeing people and going to events, it's just hard for me to accept that I can actually go somewhere and not people out quickly. That's my biggest social fear, that we'll go somewhere and I'll be done after ninety minutes and drag Kirsten away from a good time.

Another reason I avoided partying last night and today is I've been making some headway on my cleaning binge. Our alleged living room, the space in the front room where the bookcases, TV, and futon are, has been picked up, sorted, dusted and vacuumed. We have a nice bag of stuff for Goodwill, and that Halford the garbage is being picked up tomorrow because there was absolutely no room in either the trash or the recycling bins. I'm taking my time, doing a little and stopping to watch some TV, then picking up and doing another bit of the work. This works best for me, pacing both body and brain.

As I mentioned last time I posted in the journal, one of my goals for the new year is to write more. An opportunity has opened up on that end. Chris Garcia mentioned that he was planning a slew of fanzines for this year, and I asked him to send me a topic list. He replied by saying he would love for me to co-edit again (I did some of the work on the Heavy Metal and Horror issue of The Drink Tank last year) and asked for topic suggestions. Being me, I threw out the idea of doing an issue on the Queen of Cities; Byzos, Nove Roma, Constantinople, Istanbul . . . by any name, it is a city of a thousand tales. So that will be a thing.

Honestly, at this point, I'm really eager for the school year to start up again so I can back to work. It's not just the money, I really enjoy what I do and love the kids. Also, just being out there on the corner when there's no one to cross means my mind can wander and it takes me some interesting places. I need to start carrying a small notepad and pen to jot ideas down as they come to me. That will work better when it warms up a bit and I'm not wearing gloves every day.

Another thing I'm working on is a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game. The campaign I'm in is nearing its climax, and our DM has said he wants to step back for a bit. Fine, I'll jump in! Planning on using the Earthdawn setting, because I love games of exploration and mystery. I think I've explained Earthdawn recently enough, but without going into too much detail, the world was ravaged by a magical horrorshow and people are just starting to come out of their bunkers to a vastly different world. I will keep the frontiers open, and avoid over-civilizing Barsaive.

On the health front, we are trying to make it a habit to go to the gym three times a week. Even if we do almost nothing there, it's the habit of going that's important. I'll be heading over tomorrow, and work on getting back into a good rhythm. Once spring arrives, I'll do my cardio by taking long walks in Santa Clara's Central Park. Getting my bike out and doing ever-longer rides is also on the schedule. I'm already signed up to walk a 5K with Kirsten, and I want to get more use out of my bike at Burning Man.

Speaking of That Thing In The Desert, we officially opened Burn season by visiting Harbor Freight the other day. There was a mechanics bag on sale that is perfect for all our towing hitch gear. As we are Lords of the Impulse Buy, we also grabbed two pairs of work gloves; a tester for the light connector; and since the current one broke, a new spray nozzle for our hose here at home. Next up on the list: an impact driver and some lags to better secure our shade structure, a kilt for me, and we need to schedule some time and money to replace the door on the Free Trailer Beowulf. We'll be getting together with friends for that.

That where I stand - sit, really - on this first day of 2019. Of course, the toilet is acting up. I'm trying very hard not to see that as an omen.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I can honestly say that 2018 was my best year in a very long time. This was the year that my long road of stroke recovery finally blossomed into a new world of hope and possibility. I started the year still largely afraid and ended it with new hope for my future.

What a lot of people don't realize about medical crises like cancer or a stroke is that a big part of recovery is overcoming the shock of your body betraying you. You trust your body, depend on it, and then you have something go frightfully wrong all of the sudden and you are faced with dealing with a body that has betrayed you.

For a long time during and just after my cancer treatment, and again after my stroke, I'd look at my body in the mirror and instead of seeing me, I'd see the Thing. The Thing was the meat sack that had turned on me, leaving me broken and unable to live the life I wanted. You fear what the Thing is going to do next, so you retreat into a shell. You stay in your safe spaces, avoiding anything where the Thing might strike.

But this year I had progressed far enough in my recovery to get past the fear of my own body. I owe a lot of this to the amazing help I got from therapists. They helped me recognize why I was acting the way I was and gave me the tools to work through my bad times.

This is why I was able to apply for the Citizens Police Academy. Attending this over 12 weeks at the beginning of last year was transformative. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I found myself pushing beyond my limits. One of my Drill Sergeants always told us that what we thought were our limits were just the beginning of our potential. Attending the CPA proved this again. I found my confidence there.

Which led to me spotting an ad in the local city paper for crossing guards. I felt it was time to reach out for some type of work again. I knew that I had limitations; I get tired fast, have chronic pain issues, and still suffer from some balance and proprioception issues. I had been thinking of a gig job like Door Dash, but when I learned what the guard job entailed, I realized it was perfect for me.

As it turned out, getting the job turned into an ordeal. I had to redo my fingerprints after my first set was routed incorrectly. But they came back clean, I passed the physical, and I found myself a member of the Santa Clara Police Department. It's funny, as a crossing guard I am the lowest man on the totem pole, yet I am immensely proud to be wearing the department patches and my badge. It's good to be a part of something bigger than you.

I've been filling in as a relief guard over the past few months, and hopefully, I'll be getting my own corner soon. I really enjoy the work and the kids are great. Having a little extra money coming in is nice as well.

Along with all this police-related stuff, we did do other things. Kirsten and I work publications for the 76th World Science Fiction Convention here in San Jose. I was in charge of the Restaurant Guide, and I'm really happy with how it turned out. We also worked the newsletter at the convention. Although this meant I spent most of the con in the newsletter office, and there were several problems we had, I really enjoyed the insanity of working a World Con.

Immediately after World Con, we headed out for Burning Man. I was able to get out and see more this year, which was nice. The highlight was seeing the Alan Parsons Live Project performing "I, Robot" in its entirety and then having Alan Parsons himself come and hang out in our camp for a few hours. Really nice guy.

Musically, we saw a couple of really good shows this year. Judas Priest and Deep Purple, though Deep Purple was a bit of a disappointment; Ghost; and seeing the final show of Machine Head's current line up. That show was off the charts. We made a couple of ball games, and after nearly 25 years of being a baseball fan, I finally got a ball. From one of the grounds crew at San Jose Municipal, but it's a real baseball!

A good year. There were a few places I fell short, like keeping up on my writing and going to the gym on a regular basis. Two things to work on in 2019. But I'm entering the new year in good health and good spirits. For the first time in years, I feel good about the future.
gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
Napoleon III: A LifeNapoleon III: A Life by Fenton Bresler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I freely admit to having a fondness for Napoleon III and France's Second Empire. The history of France in the 19th century is one of constant change and chaos with islands of stability. The Second Empire provided plenty of both.

Bresler focuses almost entirely on the person Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte and the events in his life, leaving the larger history of the age to play in the background. We see how the family dynamics of the first Napoleon created the circumstances of his birth, how the family exile post-Waterloo shaped his views and turned the young Prince from an impetuous actor to the careful plotter who eventually went from prisoner to President to Emperor in a remarkably short time.

My only complaint with the book is Bresler occasionally drops French phrases in with no explanation. This is forgivable, as you can easily look them up, but it is a distraction.

View all my reviews
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Merry Christmas! Thought I'd share a few favorite videos for the season.

First off, the best five minutes of television ever produced. The 1999 Christmas episode of The West Wing, In Excelsis Deo follows White House Communication Director Toby Ziegler as he tries to arrange a proper funeral for a homeless veteran who was found dead near the Vietnam War Memorial. The final scene was made with the full cooperation of both the Arlington National Cemetary and the Department of the Navy. That is a real USMC Honor Guard.

Next, and in a much lighter mood, comes Run-DMC's classic Christmas in Hollis. I'm always amused at how many commercials have licensed this song. The surviving band members must get very nice payments off it.

Finally, nobody does holiday guilt like those lovely folks in the British Islands. There have been dozens of big celebrity jam songs for charity, but the original and still the best is Band Aid with Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed The World)

gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Football - 49ers helmet)
I'm watching the 49ers play the Chicago Bears, and shaking my head at just how implausible reality gets to be. My beloved Niners should be a non-entity at this point, 1-14 and in the running for the first pick in next year's draft. Our season sucked. We are down to our third-string quarterback, have lost three of our top receivers, and everything is held together by twine and fervent prayers.

Yet the team has won its last few games, including breaking a ten-game losing streak at home against Seattle, and that benchwarmer quarterback is looking like the second coming of Steve Young. We're playing a team that has already won its division, and we're keeping the game close! People talk about Cinderella stories in sports all the time, but Cinderella had magical assistance. How do you explain this team?

You see the same thing in the news. Madam Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently fell and broke some ribs. Not unusual for an 85-year-old woman. But x-rays of the ribs revealed nodules on her lungs, which turned out to be pre-cancerous. Would you accept that as a plot point in a novel? It's ham-handed railroading, is what it is! Ridiculous that this convenient fall reveals a potentially fatal condition early enough that it can be taken care of in one operation that didn't even stop the Notorious RBG from voting in a Supreme Court case from her hospital bed.

Halford's Stompy Boots, when I'm in the hospital, it's all I can do to read a book! Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a totally unrealistic character, in my humble opinion. but she's real. Likewise, the orange buffoon currently desecrating the office of the President of the United States is a caricature of a cartoon villain. Try to sell him as a fictional character, and the rejection letter will show up ticking. But there he squats.

There are a dozen sayings about how fiction has to make sense as opposed to reality, which is allowed to violate those laws of logic as it feels. But I beg to differ. If a story hinges on a low-probability event, or a series of coincidences, go for it! So long as it doesn't pass into farce (unless you're writing face, that is,) twist the laws of probability to your liking. After all, the entire plot of "Casablanca" hinges on Victor and Ilse walking into Rick's Cafe Ameican. "Of all the gin joints in the world . . ." indeed!

Think about the Lord of the Rings, where the plot hinges on the One Ring being found by the only creatures in Middle Earth able to resist it for decades. That low-probability event sets the entire epic in motion. In my own gaming, I ran a Champions campaign where metahumans, super-science, and magic existed on Earth solely due to a war in another dimension that involved the use of "improbability generators." Those weapons sent the target world skipping around the multiverse, and because it was highly improbable, dozens of the beams hit Earth over the eons. Aliens are terrified of Earth because the rules don't apply there!

So even though that use of the improbable is in the deep background (and a tip of the hat to my sister Cathy and her college friends for creating this odd universe in their spare time) it colors the entire setting. You can use big twists of fate to set things up.

Take the very real story of the RMS Titanic. Here are a few of the factors that led to the ship hitting an iceberg and king:

- the binoculars for the lookouts had been left behind in Southhampton.

- under pressure from the line owner, Captain Smith ordered increased speed through the night.

- there was no wind, meaning no waves, so it was impossible to spot icebergs by the waves crashing on them.

Change one of them, and the RMS Titanic sails into New York harbor.

Writers, or any stripe, should not shy away from using coincidences or improbable events if it moves the story along. Just make sure that the coincidence works in the story. Running into an old friend in an airport lounge in Istanbul is a happy chance meeting. Running into the same friend in a yurt in western Mongolia requires a little more work to make it fit in.

Meanwhile, the 49ers have reverted to the script and are playing stupid football. Stupid penalties and bad decision making. Maybe Joe Montana will suddenly appear and lead us to victory? Nah, nobody would buy that one.
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I have two all-time favorite fantasy worlds when it comes to gaming. The World of Greyhawk and Hârn. The two are very different in style, the former being very magic-rich, the late low magic with a more realistic bent. But both share one thing in common: gorgeous regional maps.

I have loved maps since I was a little kid. I can spend hours pouring over a good map, exploring all the oddities and interesting features. This dovetails nicely with my love of history, as having a map can bring the account you're reading to life.

But going back to Greyhawk and Hârn, there is one important difference in how they portray their worlds. It concerns borders. In Greyhawk, ever state has clearly defined borders, where one kingdom ends and another begins. Hârn, on the other hand, simply labels the location of the kingdoms and leaves it at that. Where the Kingdom of Kaldor turns into Rethem isn't labeled, but it's only by checking who owns the various villages and towns that you find out where you really are.

It's the second method that is more true to classical or medieval life. Lacking more modern surveyor's tools, most maps were approximate at best and borders hazy. When there was a clear physical feature, live a river or mountain range, it was much easier to define the border, but for much of human history, the issue of where exactly the border lies has been a matter of dispute. The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, written in 1258 BCE. is the oldest peace treaty known and includes a border settlement that places the border somewhere between two cities in what is now Syria. That's it. As there was no need for a more formal border, all anyone had to know is if you traveled south from the last Hittite city to the next town south, you were now in the Pharoah's lands.

This isn't to say that various civilizations didn't try to mark their borders. Obelisks, fences, signposts, and patrols all existed to let you know where you stood. The problem was, especially in Feudal Europe, that the ownership of parcels of land was constantly shifting through warfare or marriage. As my favorite line from the musical Chess goes: "right now we're Italian, we used to be German, the border keeps shifting around."

If you really want to see how travel in the Middle Ages worked, go to:

And read the Book of knowledge of all the kingdoms, lands, and lordships that are in the world, and the arms and devices of each land and lordship, or of the kings and lords who possess them as written by a Spanish friar in the 14th century. It's a revelation. The admittedly dense text goes into great detail of how to tell where you are by the rivers; cities; and most importantly. the banners of the various lords and free cities.

This is a boon to fantasy writers and gamers. Because with this resource, you have a better understanding of just how different things can be. We are used to well-marked highway signs and clear directions. In reality, unless the characters are sticking to a well-used road, stumbling into a settlement my call for knowledge checks to see if they can figure out where they are!

Speaking of roads, the Romans built an amazing network in their time, and all the roads were named. So if you took the Via Egnatia east, you knew that you would end up in Constantinople. After the empire fell, most of the roads fell into disrepair, but the beds were still there and were used for armies and trade. Roads came to be named for their ultimate destination. If you took the Paris road from Caen, that's where you'd end up, but the closer you got to Paris, the more people would call it the Caen road.

All of this is to make travel more exciting in fantasy environments. Forget wandering monsters, an encounter with a patrol that is convinced the party are spies or saboteurs. An important crossing of a river has been cut due to a border dispute, and the party has to find a way to cross a river raging the spring flood. One scenario I like to use is the party is hired to survey a disputed border by two nobles who agree to a neutral party doing it, but both are going to try to subvert the survey team. This one works best with a mostly good party with a trustworthy member like a paladin or cleric.

Borders and roads should be a living part of your fantasy world. Like everything else, make them part of the story!
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
I'm sitting here kind of in a state of shock. For today has messed with my sadly broken brain. First, after my morning shift, which went normally, I went to the station to drop off my time card and pick up my pay stub. I was also there to attend the Crossing Guard holiday party. Except that was yesterday. I put the wrong date in Google calendar. D'oh!

That got shrugged off, and I returned home for my usual inter-shift activities. Food, caffeine, poking the Internet. I was getting ready to go when I found myself in mortal combat with one of my uniform shirt's cuff buttons. I want to find the moron who decided that men's sleeves had to be tight at the wrist. Eventually, I won and cursed ever red light as I drove to my post, arriving two minutes late, at 1347hrs.

Get my chair set up, and start walking about a bit to stretch my legs. That's when one of the parents came up and informed me that school was released at 1322hrs. No one told me that today was going to be a minimum day! I called my boss' voicemail to explain what was going on, then about ten minutes later, after a second person told me the school was empty, I packed up and drove to the school myself. The post I had was in a place where I had no line of sight to the school. Sure enough, empty. Even the staff parking lot was deserted. Called in again, said I was heading home, and to lop 90 minutes of my time card.

So now I have 17 days stretching before me before school resumes. It's time to make some changes. First of all, I am establishing a gym schedule and sticking to it! No more excuses! The Drill Sergeants living in my head will see to that! Next, I'm reactivating my account at If I'm serious about writing, that means writing. Every day. Some of it will be utter crap, but it will happen.

I'm going to work with [personal profile] kshandra to create a household budget spreadsheet. I really want to be able to see our income and expenditures, including cash on hand and what's in various accounts. I really think that if we use a tool like this, it will help us control our spending. I'm sure there are a dozen templates for LibreOffice and Google Sheets that we can use. The key will be keeping it up and paying attention to the trends. I think doing this will enable us to identify places where we can save. After all, our 30th anniversary is looming in 2021. I'd like to be able to attend the DC Worldcon with days on either side to see all the cool things in Washington.

But in the short term, I am going to be decluttering and cleaning. I would be ashamed for any of you so see the place right now. I am going to be without mercy as I deal with having Too Much Stuff in an apartment with no storage. Goodwill is going to love me. Or hate me, as the case may be. But I want to be able to walk around my home without tripping on crap.

The rule is simple. Everything needs a place to be stored. If it doesn't have a place, I'm tossing it. We still have junk that has followed for three moves and is never used or displayed. I also want to do a little furniture juggling to make our space a little more efficient. Right now, we can't open the door all the way. We also have a God-awful pile of shopping bags. I'd like to replace those with four or five good sturdy canvas bags.

This isn't just winter fidgets, although that is part of it. This is another expression of my ongoing stroke recovery. I finally have the focus and energy to deal with some things that I could not handle before. I'll still be pacing myself and using all the coping techniques I learned from Dr. Dahl when things start to overwhelm me. I'm much better at recognizing when I'm getting frustrated and angry, and how to refocus and find a calm center. It's amazing how well mental health care works when you listen to your doctor and practice what he teaches.

Which means that there will be days where playing Civilization VI or binging Netflix while eating way too much Ghost Pepper cheese sauce will be the order of the day! I'm on vacation too!
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Your usual cynical curmudgeon Doug will be back soon. But right now, I have melted into a pile of goo with big heart eyes and a smile that will not quit.

Late in my afternoon shift, I saw a mother and young daughter step up to cross. The little girl was probably a Kindergarten kid, she looked about five-ish.

Light pops green, I raise my sign, blow my three blasts on the whistle and step out to meet them mid-way across the street. The little girl can't take her eyes off of me and has a big smile. A thousand-watt smile.

Once safely across. Mom explained what was going on. This was a special trip because the girl had never crossed the street with a crossing guard. She specified that she wanted me to cross her.

I am amazed that I didn't melt right there. Her very first crossing with a guard and I was chosen? Wow. Such an honor.

And that's why I love this job. Even on a slow corner, I can make a difference.


gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Douglas Berry

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