Monthly Archives: May 2012
So, say you’re interested in raising yourself an army of the undead. They have a variety of uses (as indicated here) and can be seen as a good investment if you have the proper materials and instruction in the unholy arts. I’ll decline to speculate on where you might get your necromantic training for a reasonable rate, but I think we can have a practical discussion on where one might acquire the dead people to get yourself started. Believe it or not, this is harder than it might seem.
Now, a novice might assume the obvious answer to your dead-body acquisition needs would be a graveyard. Well,
unless you have a backhoe, a lot of time, and are only interested in a small handful of undead minions, graveyards make poor locations to start. Why? Well, consider this: all your prospective servants are buried under 6-ish feet of packed earth (which is hard enough to dig out of to begin with, even for the undead), but are also usually encased in coffins. Coffins are very often made of steel, at least in this country. So, before you can actually use your new undead friends for scaring the neighbors, walking the dog, or conquering the local Wal Mart for your exclusive use, you’ve got to dig them up and spring them from a steel box. I don’t care how strong you think your undead buddies are, or even if the coffin is made of simple pine – that is no mean feat. You’ll be lucky if the undead make it out of the earth at all, let alone in any kind of useful condition or in a timely manner.
Okay, so no graveyards. Impractical and, hey, if it’s one of those consecrated deals, it might not even be possible to work your fiendish magic on the site, and todays marketplace is all about convenience, right? But where else can a guy with an itch for ghoulish minions find large supplies of the dead?
The next place on the list would be hospital morgues. These places have a number of advantages – the bodies are usually fresh, the conditions sanitary, and there are probably a few dozen bodies available on hand at any given time. In some places, there could be several hundred (though that is probably rare). There are a couple problems, though. Firstly, most morgue drawers lock closed like an old refrigerator door – you’d need to go around opening all the doors to let your minions out. Secondly, and probably more problematic, is that hospitals usually have a lot of personnel and security on hand to stop things like would-be necromancers running in and snatching their dead bodies (well, maybe not precisely that, but close enough). If you’re the black-hearted necromancer type, then maybe you don’t mind staging a bloody heist or some kind of clever theft, but this article presumes you’re more of the warm-hearted philanthropic necromancer which, I feel, ought to be more common.
Okay, so hospitals are good, but not ideal. What is, then? How can you get the stereotypical masses of zombies and skeletons emerging from the earth to do your bidding? Well, you pretty much need to find battlefields or mass graves. These, thankfully, aren’t all that common and this means not every necromancer in every corner of the Earth is going to have unfettered access to such things. Also, you can usually assume bodies that were dumped in mass graves will be in the worst condition possible and the longevity of their usefulness will likely be limited. You can’t have everything, can you?
Now, of course, there’s always trawling for bodies in rivers (optimally near high bridges), robbing funeral homes, or (God forbid) making your own dead bodies, but all of these methods are either obviously cruel and immoral or extremely inefficient. If you plan on committing a grave robbery, at least make sure you get more than one zombie out of the deal. Necromancy, as you no doubt are realizing, is a tough racket. Don’t despair, however – despair is something your enemies ought to feel, as your shambling horde descends upon them in the dead of a moonless night.
Disturbing news reaches the ears of Vrokthar the Skullfeaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes. As I brood upon my throne of desiccated entrails, I am told of a soft wetlander praising the virtues of strapping armor across one’s body.
This angers me. How typical of soft, womanly wetlanders to cower behind their technologically sophisticated weapons technology. Here, in the Wastes, true men face death with their chest bare and their great axe held high, to show their contempt for the weakness of their opponent. When Vrokthar goes to battle, he wears nothing but the blood of a holy bull, slaughtered as a sacrifice to Mook’ta, the God of Mindless Hatred. Never has Vrokthar died in battle, and this is proof of the effectiveness of his holy protection. The warriors that die when thusly blessed were not true believers, and so it is that the tribe of the Meaty Fists is the most pious of all the great tribes.
Only those who wet themselves with fear would cover themselves with articulated, battle-tested protection harness. Those who fear are not men, but women. So it is that Vrokthar makes a point to plant his seed in all armored wetlanders he captures, as they are clearly women. That they have failed to bear Vrokthar sons is little surprise – the soft, wetlander womb is poor soil for his harsh northern seed. Indeed, Vrokthar is so virile that he has yet to discover even a Northern woman capable of bearing him a son. All he has is useless daughters, whom he sells to buy mead for his tribesmen, for he is a great and noble man.
If the well-disciplined, well-equipped armies of the weakling civilizations of the south come to battle and it does not please Vrokthar to offer them battle, this must not be interpreted as cowardice. Vrokthar has no need to prove his naked flesh and mighty battle-cries against the womanly ranks of an organized army. What would such battle prove? There is no honor in killing limp-dicked men who have made themselves into a walking wall of steel. How could Vrokthar even determine which of their skinny, fruit-slurping number is the chief and challenge him to single combat? If Vrokthar cannot engage his enemy in single combat, then Vrokthar has better things to do. He will pack up his entire tribe and vanish into the steppe, making the so-called invicible legions of the south appear foolish as they occupy our worthless territory and find nothing but goats and scrub-grass. My, the laughs we have at their wretched expense.
Vrokthar wishes to speak no more of such foolishness as ‘armor’ and ‘discipline’. It is time to drink mead and take pleasure among the sheep. We will do this naked, as the God of Mindless Hatred intends. He smiles upon us, and laughs at your foolish wetlander ways in your soft, warm, prosperous cities. We are mightier than you, and will die a glorious death in battle long before any of your own soldiers.
That or dysentery. Very many of us die of dysentery.
There is a fairly common fantasy trope that bothers me. Take a look at the guy on the right, here. You’re looking at your fairly standard fantasy barbarian type. Twin swords, skulls and hides, bare chest, etc.. It is common for fantasy worlds to depict these fellows as the kind of guys you do not want to mess with–tough, deadly, and more than a match for any armored knight from any civilized country. The problem with this is, of course, that it is complete and utter hogwash.
As a military technology, fantasy worlds, authors, and fans often underestimate high-quality half plate, plate-and-mail, and even the rarely worn full plate armors of actual historical Europe. They are thought of as being too heavy and too cumbersome, and that warriors that who wore this stuff could be easily overpowered by a fellow like our friend on the right here, simply by dint of the fact that he is ‘faster’. This idea is inherently false and, while our bare-chested fellow might be expected to defeat an armored opponent, the odds are rather heavily stacked against him if, in fact, he’s fighting a guy who knows what he’s doing in that suit of mail.
First off, let’s dispel the ridiculous myth that being clad in plate mail suddenly means you can’t move around. Even the heavy stuff wound up weighing about 50-60 pounds, distributed across the whole body. When you consider that modern soldiers are expected to march around carrying even more weight than that, and they can move around, it isn’t all that crazy to expect a medieval knight who has trained in this stuff more-or-less his entire life could comfortably maneuver himself with it. A soldier who can’t move on the battlefield is a dead soldier, and people didn’t spend centuries crafting suits of expensive armor because it meant they were killed by whoever happened along in a leather tank-top. Granted, a guy in full plate armor isn’t going to be scratching the small of his back and he certainly isn’t running a marathon, but in the relatively short-term usage it would be expected to be used (i.e. a battle), a physically fit man who had practiced in the stuff would be comparably as agile as a guy without the stuff. The guy without the stuff would simply last much longer and could run faster. This is, of course, partly why the guys in the heavy armor often rode around on horses.
A suit of armor isn’t clothes–it’s a weapon. Just like a shield is a weapon. It suddenly enables you to do stuff on the battlefield the unarmored guy can’t, such as, I don’t know, grab the other guy’s sword by the blade. Or not bother trying to parry, since you know full well this Conan-wannabe’s overhand swing is going to glance off your helm like rainwater (just like has happened to you hundreds of times while training) while you’re running him through the guts. Suddenly, your enemy went from having a target of your whole body to having a couple, pretty small targets for him to hurt you–your armpits, the back of your knees, maybe your groin, and that’s about it. Provided the armored fellow knows what he’s doing (keeps himself from getting off balance, doesn’t needlessly exert himself, etc.), the guy without the armor is royally screwed.
But…what if the unarmored guy is, like, super super skilled?
Well, yes, an exceptionally skilled fellow has a much better chance of beating a less skilled fellow. Of course, if the less skilled fellow is wearing steel from head to toe, skilled guy is going to have to work his ass off to win. He’s much better off running away, hiding, and trying to get off a cheap shot when armored guy isn’t looking.
One fantasy series that pays attention to the uses of armor is George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. The Dothraki, for instance, eschew armor in favor of speed. This gives them strategic advantages and allows them to hit and run quickly, but in close combat is often shown to be very, very stupid when used against armored knights. Barristan the Bold in the most recent book proved the foolishness of not wearing armor quite clearly. At the same time, Tyrion’s mercenary friend Bronn shows what happens when an idiot throws on a suit of armor and chases a guy around the room without using his ‘weapon’ correctly. Had he stood there and bided his time, Bronn would have been a dead man, and no mistake. As it was, he had to work his ass off to beat that moron (who, let’s be honest, was carrying the idiot ball).
So, no more of this ‘plate mail sucks’ nonsense I frequently detect among fantasy fans. No, it doesn’t. It is a potent military technology that was only rendered obsolete by the invention of the gun. If nobody’s packing heat, plate mail (and the physical conditioning and training to use it) is as good as it gets.
I wasn’t planning on writing a post today, but I seem to be reaching my limit for useful novel-editing time a bit early today, and I don’t want to leave the computer just yet, so I’m going to bring to your attention what could, maybe, possibly, be the most important thing ever.
Read the article. Read it, damn you.
Now, the article interprets the practical application of these little bugs in computer screens and iPads and whatnot. This is pretty typical of the technological culture we’ve been living in for much of the last two decades – we discover a potential new source of energy, and the first thing we think of is a way we can harness it to play Angry Birds or listen to Devo. They toss off the line ‘you could use it to power your house by jumping up and down.’ Think about that for a second, though. You could power your house by jumping up and down!
A self-powered house! No power lines. No generators. All you need are special floors and something to compress them. You have those things already – they are called feet. You might not even need to jump up and down; you just walk around, and boom, electric power! HOLY CRAPBALLS! And what happens when the viruses die or run out of power or whatever (which is bound to happen), where can we get more? Oh, that’s right, they’re viruses! They specialize in reproducing! It’s all they freaking do!
Have you started to see how unbelievably revolutionary this might be? Whole cities could be powered by just layering portions of the sidewalk with these critters underneath touchplates. Your car could run on a layer of bugs built into the tires - you only ever refuel when you get new tires! Capacitors could be built all over the place, storing up any excess energy the little buggers produce as a result of millions of feet walking around on them all day and, therefore, power the world all night long. This technology could result in the whole world, essentially, being hooked up to a worldwide hamster-wheel of electric power, endless so long as we can keep those viruses alive and cooking. This is incredible. This is beyond revolutionary, if it proves to be practical. Right now, one square centimeter is equal to .25 AAA batteries. This seems to indicate 4 cm^2 would be 1 AAA battery. A square meter, then, 25 AAA batteries. You can run a lot of stuff off that. Keep engineering the buggers, and you might get more. Set up a system by which the used-up ones can be replaced with fresh viruses, and you could keep this going for a long, long time.
Obviously there’s a lot of practical improvements to be made, and we probably will see this begin in small ways–like a touch screen or something – but this invention has enormous potential for the science fictional worlds we will continue to imagine. I know I’m building one right now. I also know I’m not alone.
Thank you for playing Planet: Earth. Thank you for sticking with us through the development process, since the game really is quite buggy at the moment. We promise to stop releasing new Errata and FAQ documents sometime in the next million turns or so.
Anyway, if you’ve gotten this far (turn 4.3 billion, or so), that means you’ve managed to build and sustain life on this planet despite numerous potential extinction events, including various meteor and asteroid strikes, pandemics, and so on. If you still have dinosaurs active in the game, congratulations! You earn +10 achievement points to be spent on new atmospheric events, including ‘fire rain’ and ‘rainbow lightning’.
The game, as you may have guessed, is nearing its final stages. If you developed Humans (which you should have, otherwise the odds of earning anything other than a draw are slim), they’ve now grown to the point where, within the next couple hundred turns, they will have consumed most of the natural resources left on the board. This, of course, is the Final Event. If you can manage to surpass this one, you will have won the game. There are, however, several victory options still available.
Option 1: Global War
For every space on the board occupied by humans, you may draw one card from the ‘Violence’ deck and remove a number of population tokens as indicated by the card. If you can draw sufficient cards to manage to remove all Civilization tokens, you win the game. Bonus Points: +0
Option 2: Environmental Disaster
Trade in sufficient human tokens to draw from the ‘Meddling Humans’ deck. Keep drawing until you get sufficient flood, wildfire, drought, and tornado cards to remove civilization tokens as described above. Do this, and you win the game. Bonus points: +25
Option 3: Pandemic
This works similarly to all Pandemics, however you must generate sufficient Virulency points to overcome all human population centers’ Resistance Rating. If you can manage to make humanity Extinct, you win the game. Bonus Points: +15
Option 4: Multiplanet Species
Generate sufficient technology tokens to purchase draws from the Breakthrough deck. If you can play enough ‘Space Development Cards’ to create a Mass Migration event sufficient to reduce population tokens below the number of remaining resource tokens, you win the game. Bonus points: +100
Option 5: Pan-global Utopia (Non-Human)
Invest sufficient improvement points in non-human populations (we recommend apes, computers, extraterrestrials, or dolphins) to successfully gain Breakthrough draws sufficient to play the ‘Self Awareness’ card. Then, follow the procedure for Global War, above, but with non-humans fighting humans. Bonus Points: +150
Option 6: Pan-global Utopia (Human)
Invest sufficient improvement points in human populations to gain Breakthrough draws sufficient to play the ‘Limiteless Energy’ card. Then proceed to spend technology tokens as indicated on the card to move the human race’s Psychology Meter to a rating between ‘Languid’ and ‘Acquisitive.’ Then reduce population tokens to lower than resource tokens to win the game. Bonus points: +250
We realize that this is a bit unbalanced and we promise to work out the bugs in the retail version. Thank you very much for playing the Beta-test version of Planet: Earth!
Everybody likes to laugh in an RPG, but so few players are willing to make their characters comic relief. Everybody is usually in some kind of contest to be the coolest, toughest, scariest, or most impressive. Not so my friend, Joe. In the very same 7th Sea Campaign that featured the stalwart and inexorable Helmut Dauben Kohb, Joe played Avalonian (i.e. English) expatriate ‘Lord’ Edward du Charouse, who was actually a Marquis, and that only by marriage to the lovely Michelle du Charouse, reputed to be the most beautiful woman in Montaigne (i.e. France). This character was, hands down, the most ridiculous, hilarious, and wonderfully fun character I’ve probably ever had in a game. Let me tell you why:
Joe built his entire character around three things: (1) A Romance background with Michelle, the stereotypically fickle and spoiled Montaigne noblewoman, (2) the Lecherous flaw, meaning Lord Edward was pretty much constantly trying to score with any attractive woman he saw, and (3) the Dangerous Beauty advantage, meaning women were drawn to him like flies. Throw in the fact that he was an arrogant fop, a blissfully ignorant dilettante, and a pretty talented duelist, and this resulted in an absolutely enormous amount of trouble that followed Edward around, everywhere he went.
You see, Edward cheated on Michelle constantly. With anything. All the time. He’d have relationships or attempted relationships going with every single young female NPC in the game at the same time. He wasn’t clever about it, either. He once, for instance, invited two women for a romantic evening walk in the gardens of a Vodacce prince at the same time and spent the whole scene finding excuses to leave one alone, scale a wall, and return to the other one. One of these women was a deadly swordswoman and bodyguard to the archvillain Villanova. The whole affair did not end well.
Furthermore, anytime Edward was caught cheating or even paying attention to another woman, Michelle would throw him out of their château. Michelle was the one with all the money, all the prestige, and all the influence; without her, Edward couldn’t possibly live to his standards. So, regularly, we would embark upon epic plots to regain Michelle’s love, punctuated by ridiculous side-adventures, such as vows made in court that he could ‘fence a bear’ (didn’t go well), that he was on ‘a secret mission from the Musketeers’ (he never was), or other similar egocentric activities. I don’t think we ever laughed harder in a game, my friends and I.
How Edward Dealt With His Problems
The best part about Lord Edward was Joe’s unflinching willingness to get him into massive amounts of trouble all the time, for any reason. You know how most players spend all their time trying to avoid complications, planning their assaults on the enemy castle with painstaking detail and with buckets of backup plans? Not Edward. He just waltzed right in, assuming his pretty smile and his money and, failing that, his skill with a blade would make it all work out. It regularly blew up in his face, got him and the rest of the party in huge amounts of trouble, and the adventures that followed with them trying to get out of that trouble were simply priceless.
There was this one time that the players got their hands on a small ship that had its ballast replaced with gold bars. There was so much gold there, they could have bought entire kingdoms with it. This, everyone knew, was the tip of the iceberg of some sinister plot that the PCs would spend the rest of the campaign unravelling. They knew whoever’s gold this was wouldn’t hesitate to kill them all if they were discovered with it. So, when they sailed into port, everyone agreed that they were going to keep the gold secret.
So, when most of the party left and put Edward in charge of the gold, what did he do? He grabbed a whole gold brick, walked to the nearest brothel, threw the gold down on the floor and said ‘there’s more where that came from, ladies!’ When the players got back, their ‘secret’ ship had become a party boat, with Lord Edward engaged in an orgy with half the whores in port, throwing gold around like it was water. Absolutely hilarious and it got them in incredible amounts of trouble. The Vesten rune mage with them also blew Edward out the back of the boat with a lightning bolt. Good times.
I won’t even get into the time that he, during the game’s version of the French Revolution, founded ‘Lord Edward’s Home for Wayward Women (No Ugly Chicks).’ That didn’t end well, either.
Nevertheless, Edward remained charming and likeable, even if he was creepy and arrogant and chauvinistic. He managed this by always realizing how wrong he had been and making it up to those he cared about, often at great physical risk to himself. Still, for all his attempts to go the straight and narrow, everybody knew he would fall again, do something foolish, and the ridiculous swashbuckling fun would begin again. All this, by the way, as a result of a player, Joe, who knew that fun in an RPG isn’t about avoiding trouble, it’s about going out there and finding it, even if you need to make it up yourself.
Play like Lord Edward everybody. Your games will be better for it.
So, my brother-in-law generously gave me his old lawnmower so that I, new homeowner, could reduce the jungle growing up around my house before the Na’vi took up residence and started all their environmental nonsense. Anyway, the mower was hard to start – I think that Briggs & Stratton build engines specifically designed to frustrate me – and it took me a while fiddling with it before I could get it to go. One of the things I did was fill it up with gas. This necessitated me purchasing a new gas can, and here our story begins.
You know what drives me nuts? No, don’t guess – let me just tell you: when people create ‘improvements’ to things that DO NOT NEED IMPROVEMENT. Case in point, this gas can, like all gas cans since gas cans were a thing, has a little spigot/nozzle/tube thing that comes out the end so that you can easily pour gasoline from the can into whatever device you’re looking to fuel. Those little things are not only useful, but ridiculously simple, cheap, elegant, and almost completely foolproof.
My new gas can didn’t have one. It had a ‘new improved’ version with a safety lock on it and some mechanism wherein you had to push down on the nozzle to make the gas come out. This thing, of course, promptly either broke or was so byzantine in its function that I found myself completely unable to get it to work. Gas was spilling everywhere. I shook my fists at the heavens and at whatever moron decided this doohickey was somehow essential to the operation of my little 1-gallon gas can.
Seriously, under what circumstances is something like that needed? Am I filling my lawnmower on the pitching, heaving deck of ship that is currently on fire and, therefore, should one *single* drop of gasoline go awry, the entire place would explode? Do they expect me to need this gas can in some apocalyptic wasteland where every single cubic centimeter of fuel is such a precious commodity that I need redundant systems to prevent any loss whatsoever? Do the regular purchasers of this gas can have a kind of palsy that makes them shake and tremble so that conventional spigots are ineffectual. I mean WHAT THE HELL, GUYS?
This stupid spigot is indicative of what we’re doing with technological advancement today. We are wasting our intelligence and effort on pointless gadgets rather than trying to solve something important, like the energy crisis, the population bomb, hunger, disease, space travel, etc., etc.. Take the almighty iPhone, for instance. I don’t have one. I don’t have one because (a) they are expensive and (b) I already have a phone that works just fine. Yes, I cannot use my phone to take quality photographs or e-mail people or play games or check Facebook, but I don’t need to do that. At all. It might be fun, but it’s also frivolous and silly. I’m pretty much the only person on the train who observes his surroundings anymore. I could pick everybody’s pocket in there, if I wanted, and escape without notice, because everybody’s powers of perception are wholly poured into a tiny little rectangle of light held in the palms of their hands. Why? Because they can’t stand the thought of not being entertained for fifteen goddamned minutes. We can’t get ourselves off relying on fossil fuels, but we can watch reruns of Futurama any freaking time we please.
There’s a lot of other garbage like this in our modern world, from those little GPS computers that tell you where you are and where you’re going (when a decent map or even MapQuest would suffice) to the asinine contents of every single SkyMall catalog to those stupid cars that can parallel park themselves (what, can’t you, I don’t know, LEARN?). We’ve become a people so paranoid of boredom and discomfort that we’ve decided to outsource our brains to some engineer somewhere who thinks she can make a gadget that does it better.
I wound up pouring gas into my lawnmower engine with no spigot at all. Like a goddamned savage.
Look, I understand that you’re just following orders, nameless army grunt, but do you honestly think that your little assault rifle is contributing to the situation in a positive way? Let me put it this way: I’ve been cowering behind this old Chevy for almost a full two minutes now, and I’ve watched you pump off, I don’t know, like a hundred rounds of ammunition into the giant, angry green monster over there, and do you know what you’ve achieved? Nothing. I ask you, how is the 101st bullet going to be any different?
You’re reloading? Again? What the hell is wrong with you? Stop! For the love of God, stop shooting the Hulk!
Do you even know the meaning of the word ‘bulletproof?’ Jesus, your buddies in the Apache Helicopter with the giant freaking Gatling gun didn’t hurt him, what the fuck do you think you’re going to accomplish? You’re just giving the freak some kind of long-distance shiatsu massage!
Oh…oh shit. He sees us. Oh crap oh crap oh crap. STOP with the fucking gun, asshole! What the FUCK is wrong with you?
Have you noticed that the more you shoot at him, the bigger he gets? You’re just pissing him off! Cut it out! I swear to God, if that big green fucker throws a trolley car through my ice cream shop just because you’re too fucking stupid not to quit while you’re ahead, I’m taking the yellow ribbons off my front door. No more care packages for you, dumbass.
HOLY SHIT! He just THREW A BUS at that other idiot over there! A BUS! What do you think you’re going to get? This isn’t Superman, buddy – he isn’t going to give you a stern scolding and deliver you to the local jail. He’s going to render your body two-dimensional beneath some massive projectile.
Seriously, you’re still shooting him?
You know what I think? I think you’re suicidal. That’s it. I think you want to die. What happened? Your wife leave you? Miss that promotion to Chief Goon? Find out you have terminal cancer? Look, maybe I can cheer you up, right? I do own an ice cream shop. You want a hot fudge sundae? Everybody gets cheered up by an ice cream sundae. Right?
Hey, what’s that shadow?
Oh…it’s a tank turret. In mid air. Shit.
If I live through this, I am totally suing somebody.