Thursday, January 29, 2009

104th Skeptics’ Circle Posted

The 104th Skeptics' Circle is now online at Space City Skeptics. I made a contribution (been a while), but if you're finding about the Skeptics' Circle here, you've already read my article by now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Food Porn: Kålrot

So, with a bit of help, I managed to make kålrot this evening. It was an excuse to cook with a rutabaga. I've never had rutabaga... it seemed like a good idea at the time. We doubled the recipe, so it turned out to be...
  • 2 teaspoons of dried beef bouillon
  • 1-1/2 cups of water
  • 6 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 large leeks, including the green, chopped
  • 3 cups of rutabaga (worked out to one rutabaga, actually), peeled and cubed
  • 1-1/2 lbs. of bratwurst
  • Salt and pepper to taste
After dissolving the bouillon in the water, we added the vegetables and simmered them on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Then we cut the bratwurst into bite-sized pieces and let them heat up for about 5 minutes. We put in a bit of salt and pepper in the pot, but mostly just added it as desired at the table.

This turned out to be really good. Rutabaga is vaguely like a cross between a carrot and a potato. It has a very bright yellow color when cooked this way, making kålrot a visually appealing dish, as well as a tasty one. While the sausage is nice if this is your entire meal, I think it would be rather superfluous if you were preparing kålrot as a side-dish.

The Chief Thrusts

A Right Stock, or Stockata, is to be put in upwards with strength and quickness of the body, and the guard for the putting in a stoke is leaning so far back with your face and body as you can, and the hilts of your rapier so near the ground, or so low as you can, but of this guard I have spoken sufficiently already.

A Slope Stock is to be made unto your enemy’s breast or unto his rapier shoulder if he looks over his rapier, but in putting it in, you must wheel about your rapier hand towards your left side, turning your knuckles inward, this thrust being put in slope-wise as aforesaid, will hit your enemy which lies upon the Cross guard or the Careless guard or the Broad ward, when a right stock or plain fore right thrust will not hit.

An Imbrokata is a falsifying thrust, first to proffer it towards the ground so low as your enemy’s knee, and then presently put it home unto your enemy’s dagger shoulder or unto any part of his dagger arm, for he will put down his dagger to defend you feigned thrust, but cannot recover his dagger again before you have hit him in the dagger arm, shoulders, or face, whether you will yourself, for in proffering this thrust, the is no way to defend the upper part, the dagger being once down, but only with the single rapier, and except a man expects it, it cannot be so defended either.

A Reverse is to be made when your enemy, by gathering in upon you, causes you to fall back with your right foot, and then your left foot being foremost, keeping up your dagger to defend and having once broken your enemy’s thrust with your dagger, presently come in again with your right foot and hand together, and so put in your reverse unto what part of his body you please, for it will come with such force that it is hard to be prevented.

The Mountanto is to be put in with a good celerity of the body and in this manner; you must frame your guard when you intend to charge your enemy with this thrust, bear your rapier hard upon or so near the ground as you can, lying very low with your body, bowing you left knee very near the ground also, and either upon your enemy’s thrust or in lying in his guard you may strike his rapier point toward you right side with your dagger so that it may pass clear under your rapier arm, and with the same motion as you strike his rapier, suddenly mount up your rapier hand higher than your head, turning your knuckles upward, but turn the point of your rapier downwards over his rapier arm into his breast or shoulder, and you must be quick in the performances of this thrust, and likewise nimbly must you leap out again. This thrust must be put in by stepping forward of your left leg: now if you use this thrust more than once, your enemy will expect your coming aloft with him as you did before, but then put it in the second or third time underneath, and you shall hit him about the girdle-stead, and so because at this time I will not be over tedious I leave to speak of many other thrusts.

--Joseph Swetnam, The Schoole of Defence, Chapter 12 (1617)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Show Me the Magick

As you may have noticed, I recently sold out and put Google ads on the Saga. I guess it was inevitable that some peculiar advertisers would start showing up there, given the Saga’s content. I mean, it’s a natural consequence of articles about D&D and the like that I get ads for people selling spell-casting services, right?

When Decca saw an ad pop up for “Magicks of the World”, she couldn’t resist checking it out. Honest, Google guys – I did not click on that link myself.

Magicks of the World screencap
That said, I wouldn’t feel particularly guilty if I had clicked on that link: “Magicks of the World” doesn’t look like the gold standard of business ethics. For starters, they claim to have a 100% money-back guarantee, but there’s no link to the terms of that guarantee anywhere on the home page, and I’ve yet to find them anywhere else, either.

This site sells spell castings with prices ranging from about $40 to nearly $660 (and I daresay you could make a special request for something even more expensive). They also point out that multiple castings are likely to get better results.

WE RECOMMEND MULTIPLE PURCHASES IN ORDER TO TACKLE A PROBLEM FROM MULTIPLE ANGLES! PLEASE INQUIRE IF YOU NEED HELP SELECTED WHAT MIGHT WORK TOGETHER BEST, AS SOME SPELLS DO BETTER THAN OTHERS WHEN PURCHASED TOGETHER!

SOMETIMES IT IS BEST TO PURCHASE MULTIPLE COPIES OF THE SAME SPELL. THIS WILL UPGRADE THE POTENCY OF THE WORK, WITHOUT THE HASSLE OF TRYING TO SELECT A NEW ANGLE. WE WOULD ALSO BE HAPPY TO HELP SELECT THE ANGLES FOR YOU, IF YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH US.
Wait a minute, aren’t these things 100% guaranteed? Why would you need multiple castings if a spell is guaranteed to work? Curious, that.

And if that’s not ethically dubious enough for you, let’s look at some of their spell offerings (I know I’m emphasizing the worst the site has to offer, but still).

SECRET AFFAIR SEDUCTION SPELL
If you have your eyes set on someone specific, and really want to have an affair (or a random affair/one night stand) This is DEFINITELY for you! This work will bring you your affair naturally, whether you know the desired sexual friend, or wish to have a random stranger.

SEDUCE A PROFESSIONAL OF CHOICE SEX SPELL
Do you have a student you really wish you could have an affair with? Is there a teacher or boss of yours out there, who REALLY would make a good here and there lover? Do you REALLY want to jump the bones of a co-worker, nurse, or doctor? This work is definitely for you and your fantasy!

BREAK THEM UP LOVE SPELL
Are there two people together who you KNOW are not right for one another? Do you feel that a couple is doing no good together and just meant to be apart? This spell will help right these universal errors of certain flings!

MAKE LOVE DIVORCE LOVE SPELL
Is your lover in a bad marriage? Do you want to be their one and only without the interference of their toxic relationship? Break it up!!

MARRIAGE ON MONEY LOVE SPELL
Do you often wish that you had a rich spouse that would take care of everything for you? Do you envy women with husbands that make a lot of money? Get your own now!

VEGAS VICTORY MONEY SPELL
Do you ALWAYS feel down on your luck? Do you gamble all the time, but NEVER seem to win ANYTHING? In fact, you lose FAR MORE than you can afford? Do you wish you could be the person to win win win? This spell can definitely change your luck!
Even if I thought these spells would actually do anything, I’d consider them unethical. Since I don’t think they’ll have any effect whatsoever, it’s more a matter of the site taking people’s money for nothing. I mean, the site owner may go through the motions of a spell casting for each purchase, but why bother? It’s not like they’re going to have any real effect. Heck, someone who would buy a spell to break up someone's marriage probably deserves to be ripped off.

The site has a heap of testimonials, of course, but we all know how little that means. Given all the promises being made, it shouldn’t take much effort to produce some genuine statistical evidence of how effective these spells really are. Here’s an easy idea; take 100 people who are going gambling in Las Vegas, randomly use the “Vegas Victory” spell on half of them (without telling which ones get the spell, of course), and see if the “spelled” ones statistically win more money than the “un-spelled” gamblers. Of course, running a test like that (under neutral observation) would actually require confidence that these spells really work.

Oh, and “Madaam Glass” has the gall to run her own “scamblog” to help you tell the real psychics from the fakers.

By the way, I took the liberty of doing a domain lookup on Magicks of the World. It's address is a post office box, and the email addresses are random strings: wlm7Xi@privacypost.com and 9tlR1e@privacypost.com. Why not "admin@magicksoftheworld.com" and "tech@magicksoftheworld.com". For a psychic with a 100% guarantee of her powers, she sure likes her anonymity.

EDIT: A little further Googling has discovered a number of articles that suggest that Magicks of the World is just the latest in a series of scam websites run by the same con artist(s).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

D&D: Total Party Kill

I didn't really mean to kill them... honest.

On day two at the gladiatorial arena, everyone in the group again awoke fully healed. After their bread-and-water breakfast, the guards came to get them one-by-one, as before. This time, they were taken to an armory, where they could help themselves to a fitting suit of leather armor and their choice of shields and weapons (although no bows, crossbows, or other projectiles). As they were being secured to the lifts that would take them up to the arena, they could see another group of similarly armed prisoners being gathered on the other platform.

Now, just so you know, I'm going to explain how I planned this session and what I expected the group to do as the situation developed. The prisoners on the other platform were commoners (an NPC class that is incredibly incompetent at fighting) ranging in level from one to three (and even the highest-level among them only had six hit points). These guys were meant to be cannon fodder, but not necessarily for the party. After all, the party is composed mostly of good-aligned characters, including a paladin. I figured they would probably try to negotiate a truce with the other prisoners, defying the arena staff and refusing to fight for their entertainment. It wouldn't take much role-playing effort for that to work. Even if they horrifically failed their diplomacy check and ended up fighting, three of the four commoners would probably be dropped by one sleep spell from the party's sorcerer.

In either of those scenarios, the crowd would boo, and the arena staff would reveal that they had been prepared for just such a situation. The gates at the end of the arena would open, and a giant scorpion would come barrelling into the arena. With the scorpion appearing behind the commoners, it would naturally direct its attacks against them first. The scorpion would be the real fight; it's got just enough hit dice (five) to be immune to a sleep spell, and it's not affected by charm person. Still, with all of the party pounding on it -- enchanted club, sneak attacks, magic missile spells, and good old warhammer smiting, I figured they'd be able to manage it before it shredded more than one of them, and that person would survive in the infirmary.

Alas, things did not go according to plan. When the locks on the platforms were released, the party went on the attack, and the sorcerer didn't just end it quickly with a sleep spell; he started tossing magic missiles. Being the pathetic commoners they were, the other "gladiators" dropped fast, but the sorcerer still managed to deplete all of his good spells, leaving him with nothing but level-zero "cantrips".

Naturally the audience wasn't satisfied with this one-sided slaughter, so the staff released the scorpion. Unfortunately, there was no cannon fodder to absorb it's first charge, and the closest target was the party's rogue. Lucky for her, it missed, but it was a short reprieve. In the next round, it dropped the paladin with one clip of a pincer (Important safety tip: If you're the party's tank, Constitution should not be your dump stat!). A round after that, the rogue was down and the druid was terribly, terribly hurt.

Still, the party had actually managed to hurt it; the sorcerer was using puny level-zero attacks, but they were adding up; the paladin and rogue had each gotten in a shot, and the druid gave it a good one. With one hit point left, she lucked out on her next round and the scorpion missed with every attack. If she nailed it with her next swing, it just might die. It was not to be, though; she missed with her next attack, and it struck her down. That left just the sorcerer and the scorpion. The only thing he had going for him was the mage armor spell he had cast at the start of the whole scenario. When the scorpion charged, the spell deflected its attack. The spell did not deflect its next full attack, though, and he didn't really have a chance of knocking it out before that attack came.

Well, the city had put them into the arena to get them killed, anyway, so there was really no reason to expect the staff to try to revive them all: it was a TPK. Plans for new characters are already under way, and a new campaign will begin soon, hopefully with a few lessons taken to heart.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

D&D: Welcome to Your New Home

So, the party woke up in the dungeons beneath the city’s gladiatorial arena last night. They got a few minutes to familiarize themselves with their surroundings before the guards came round to gather them up for their first fight.

Naturally someone had to try something foolish. The sorcerer, Jerrik, thought he could get them out of this mess with just a first level spell. He cast charm person at the first staff member he could see, hoping to get himself released that way.

There is not a huge magic-dampening field in this prison; that would be far too expensive. There is, however, an alarm that sounds if a spell gets cast in the dungeon. The spell target’s buddies grabbed him and ushered him out before he could go talk to his new friend, and the arena’s chief of security came down to check out the spell caster in cell twelve. Jerrik ended up being knocked out by a color spray spell and waking up with some extra restraints to keep him from speaking or using his fingers for gestures. I guess intelligence was his dump stat.

The remaining party members were escorted one by one to a platform in a machine room, where they were locked to mechanisms in the floor. A little ways away, on another platform, they could see the bugbear they were going to get to fight. As the platforms were lifted to the arena floor, the party could see a nice bloodthirsty crowd and a few simple weapons that would be within easy reach. The locks at their ankles popped open, and it was on.

The party spent their first actions in a mad scramble for weapons while the bugbear charged, getting in one good smack to the paladin (how the heck do you spell that name, William?). Aislinge maneuvered to flank Xobas (the bugbear) while Nafrit put a spell on the club she picked up.

The paladin got in one good whack to Xobas before being knocked out by another solid clubbing. With a slight adjustment of their positions, Aislinge and Nafrit kept Xobas flanked, which allowed a combination of enchanted club strikes and rogue sneak attacks to put him down.

So, the group now knows the consequences of their little flub at the gates. Now I just have to work out what other options they have for attempting to escape. At least they’ve got convenient healing resources (the staff don’t necessarily want them to kick off too quickly) and plenty of opportunities to score experience.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

D&D: Party Fail

Technically, I could call it a Total Party Kill, since no one was left conscious at the end, and the opposition could summarily execute them on the spot, but I’d hate to have to start from scratch again, so it looks like the party is going to be captured, instead.

But that’s the end of the story. Let’s jump back to the beginning. In our previous session, the party had come upon the aftermath of an attack on a charcoal burners' camp on the road through the forest. The charcoal kilns were broken, most of the buildings were burning, and the human workers were apparently all dead. The only significant life was a small band of kobolds pillaging the camp. The kobolds spotted the party and a fight ensued with the party victorious (if rather badly hurt). They stayed that night in one of the relatively undamaged buildings of the camp. Last night’s session began with the party waking up the next morning.

After sorting themselves out, preparing new spells, and applying a bit of healing magic, they continued on their way back to town. That’s right: they left without conducting a search of the camp or looting the bodies of the kobolds or even wondering how nine kobolds managed to defeat dozens of humans, no matter how poorly they were armed. This would be big fail number one for the night. (Edit: Apparently they never got my impression of the number of people in the camp, so the small number of kobolds did not seem strange to them.)

They head back to town, passing a troop of cavalry on their way out toward the camp to see what the big column of smoke is all about; no big deal here. As they near town, however, they find a huge crowd of people lined up to get through the city gate: the city guards are on alert and checking everyone trying to enter. For those who don’t know, the government of this city is pretty xenophobic, anyone who isn’t a member of the Italian-looking majority is a second class citizen. The party includes two dark-skinned southerners, a half-elf, and a just-acquired pale blond northern boy. Needless to say, odds are good they’ll be turned away at the gate.

But all is not lost, a teenage boy approaches the group and offers to show them a secret way into town if they’ll take a package to his uncle for him. Credit where credit is due, the party is pretty suspicious and manages a line of questions that trips him up. He sprints away, but the druid sends her horse after him and he’s kicked unconscious (Edit: in the "my bad" department, he was originally subdued by a sleep spell, but he was technically immune to that spell; I concluded that there was no way he was going to outrun the horse, so that became his retconned undoing). A quick detect magic determines that there’s something magical about the package he wanted them to deliver. The teenage boy turns out to be an elf in disguise (the city government and the forest elves don’t get along at all, if you didn’t know).

Figuring that turning in this troublemaker would give them an excuse to proceed to the front of the line and ingratiate them with the guards, they head around the crowd to talk to some gate guards. Wanting to examine it for themselves, the party’s new sorcerer tucks the package under his cloak: big fail number two. The guards are not fooled, unfortunately, and insist on seeing what he has. One of the guards opens the package, and it explodes. Everyone in the group attempts a reflex save. One of them even passes it. Unfortunately, even with one of them taking half damage, none of them has enough hit points to remain conscious after the blast.

And with that, we have what amounts to a TPK. It would be a pain to make everyone roll new characters, so I’m assuming the guards will make sure they survive and then deliver them to some sort of prison. Now I have to decide where they’ll wake up and what sort of unpleasantness awaits them when they do.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Religious Judgement

I guess this is what fundamentalists consider fair...

Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is punishable by stoning, but such sentences are rare. International human rights groups have long criticized stoning in Iran as a cruel form of punishment.

Jamshidi did not describe how the stonings were carried out. But typically under Islamic rulings, a man is buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck. Those carrying out the verdict then throw stones until the person dies. If the person manages to escape from the hole, he or she will remain free under Islamic law.

--source

So how come this process makes it so much easier for the men to escape?

Not that I'm necessarily trying to bust on Muslims, mind you. The Bible prescribes stoning for several offenses, and some of them are just as unfair.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Food Porn: Beer-Pickled Sea Kitten

Recently, we made Beer Pickled Sea Kitten, pictured below. Note the hand of the baby in the lower left corner. She knows that it's food.


We tweaked the recipe just a bit, so here's how it actually went.

Ingredients:
  • 1 sea kitten (of the Salmon breed), or the appropriate amount of filet
  • Marinade consisting of:
    • 1/2 cup of water
    • 1/2 cup of white vinegar (5%)
    • 1 bottle of strong, dark beer (Guiness, in this case)
    • 2 tablespoons salt
    • 5 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
    • 1 tablespoon whole black pepper
    • 4 bay leaves
    • 1 onion, sliced into thin rings
    • 5 clove tacks
Process:
  • Mix the marinade and bring it to boil.
  • Cool down and pour over bite-sized dice of sea kitten fillets until covered.
  • Refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving.
The dish will reportedly stay fresh for two to three weeks in the refrigerator, but that's never been tested, because there's never been any left after the first day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Party Win

So the party finished scouring the old wizard's keep for the clues they were seeking, coming away with a few minor items that had been hidden away and a map. And then Juliana had a stroke of brilliance.

They'd been hired to find some ancient magic secrets (which hadn't actually been at the keep -- was anyone surprised?), and she figured that the map was a clue in that direction, so they would go back to town and give it to their employer to collect their fee. She, however, proposed making their own copy first, so even if their employer did not hire them to follow the map, they could do so on their own.

They're getting so much more devious! I'm proud.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More PETA Insanity

We all know that the membership of PETA is composed of the delusional and stupid, but for some reason, it looks like they've also been infiltrated by the Deep Ones: they think they can discourage children from eating fish by convincing them that fish are really cute, cuddly sea kittens. I kid you not.

Fish: The Kittens of the Sea

The website looks like Rainbow Brite, the Care Bears, and My Little Pony threw up into the ocean onto the mutant spawn of a catfish and Cthulu.

I've got news for you PETA guys: I know a 1-year-old who won't mistake a fish for a kitten. Kittens are cute, warm, furry incarnations of evil (yeah, I'm a dog person). Fish are cold, slimy, scaly denizens of the watery deep that taste great with malt vinegar. She can tell the difference.

But you can still have fun with their "make your own sea kitten" webtoy.

Tuna: It's what's for dinner!!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Morons

BEIJING (Reuters)A panda with a record of aggressive behavior attacked a man who jumped into its enclosure at a Beijing zoo to pick up a toy, local media said on Thursday.
Sounds like the biting was well deserved, and the panda went easy on the guy (who had only minor injuries and required little more treatment than a mandatory rabies shot). This same panda has apparently bitten two other idiots who jumped into its enclosure on prior occasions.

Is it not self-evident that you should not jump into a cage with a live, undomesticated bear? I suppose a warning sign of some sort may be in order: "Warning - Observers of this animal occasionally demonstrate astonishing stupidity! Please leave the area if you are prone to stupidity!"

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Yes, I'm a Slacker

I know. I haven't updated in nearly a month. In my defense, I have to set up a weblog for the Saltare Guild. I've got a few events coming up in the next couple of months, including this year's Saltare event, which will be on the weekend of February 14th. I'm finding that I have a few other Saltare related projects to do this year, as well, like get an accurate roster of members who can teach.

I've transcribed roughly half of chapter 12 of The Schoole of Defence, having gotten past Swetnam's descriptions of the basic guards for rapier and dagger and started on his descriptions of the basic attacks. Once it's all transcribed, I'll have to format it for the internet and find a place to host it.

I also have a preliminary list of dances for the Beginners' Ball at Gulf Wars. In no particular order, I've picked...
  • Ballo del Fiore
  • Black Nag
  • Heart’s Ease
  • Half Hannikin
  • Sellingers’ Round
  • Amoroso
  • Gathering Peascods
  • Official Bransle
  • Hole in the Wall
  • Horses Bransle
  • Petite Riens
  • Grimstock
  • Jenny Pluck Pears
  • Rufty Tufty
  • Montarde Bransle
  • Anello
Obviously, I've avoided the one's that will require heavy teaching at the ball. In general, an experienced dancer should be able to drag a set of beginners though most of these without too much trouble. I'll also be working on a cheat sheet for the ball, just to make things even easier.