Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Hyperion

A friend gave me Dan Simmon's 1989 novel, Hyperion for my birthday in 2011 and I only just got around to reading it. Overall, the book has many wonderful things to recommend it. Unfortunately, it also has one major drawback, which we will get to later.

The story takes place in a post-Earth galactic human civilization and centers on the mysterious outpost planet of Hyperion. The planet is home to a mysterious set of structures, called the Time Tombs which produce strange effects in space-time. The tombs are home to and/or associated with a mysterious, spiky figure known as the Shrike or pleasantly nicknamed the Lord of Pain… though I hear his college buddies called him "Scooter".

The course of events follows a group of travelers selected by the Shrike Church to go on a final pilgrimage to the Time Tombs. The characters all have some previous association with Hyperion and to figure out why they were selected for the journey, they share their tales of Hyperion.

Hyperion felt like a nexus of sci-fi literature. It is unashamed in its references to science-fiction and literature in general. On a basic level, the book is one giant homage to the poet John Keats. The novel takes its name from anunfinished work by Keats of the same name. To me, it read very much like a science fiction version of Heart of Darkness, following the journey of not one, but several narrators across a bizarre and dangerous landscape on the fringes of a great hegemonic power's reach. They travel to face an enigmatic and dangerous foe, like a shiny spiky Kurtz who is able to manipulate time.

Numerous smaller references are thrown about making this a fun bit of hide and seek for the reader. For example, many of the other worlds in Hyperion hold a noirish feel similar to Blade Runner. One of the main characters, in fact, is a detective hired by a cybrid being to investigate the murder of his first body… in a weird sort of Deckard role-reversal. Human civilization is linked together in a Gibsonian vision of cyberspace called the World Web complete with black ICE, virtual wave-riding hackers and an overly visualized cyberspace. There are references to one character running with the John Carter Brigade during his early military career, and on and on…

On the other end, the book introduces many things that I see reflected in later works of sci-fi. Hyperion is, in many ways, analogous to the island from Lost with the Shrike as its very own smoke monster. There are deep-space barbarians who may very well have been appropriated into the Reavers from Firefly  and one of the characters pulls a Gaius Baltar, falling in love with an AI construct that persists in his mind even after he has unplugged from his stim-sims. Oh, the post-Earth post-wandring civilization bound in a nervous peace with machines/AI of its own creation is also very BSG... so which way does that reference flow?

Dot-connections aside, Simmons does an excellent job of telling some dark and brutal sci-fi tales. You get to know the characters, get to like them and realize that many of them have been dealt a really crappy hand. So, good characters, good plot, lots of inside references. What's not to like about Hyperion? Well, like the poem on which it is based, it doesn't have an ending. Sure the words stop, but they do so at a place that feels like a complete cop-out and leaves pretty much everything unresolved. I haven't yet opened the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, but I can only hope it finishes what this book started.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Map: Lastholt Ice Caves (Entrance)

This post from mapmaster Dyson Logos, which linked to this page by also mapmaster Kevin Campbell has inspired me to step up my game when it comes to hand-drawn maps. Lately, I have been using my trusty quad-ruled notebook to sketch out maps for my D&D game. I find it to be quicker and easier than mapping with a drawing program like Gimp and much easier to translate into a battle mat drawing. However, so far, my sketched maps have been... well... sketchy. After admiring many of Dyson's Dangerous Delves maps and looking over Campbell's pages of elegant simplicity, I feel like hashing out my own hand-drawn style. My goal is to balance visual aesthetics, informational clarity and ease of production.

Here's a scan of my first real go. I reproduced a map I had already roughed out in a slightly more polished fashion and without my secretly scribbled notes. It's a simple pencil sketch on quad-rule notebook paper, though the process of scanning it and adjusting the curves made the rule lines vanish... I'll need to work on that bit.

This cave mouth is where my players ended their last session over a month ago.

Lastholt Ice Caves

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Gamey Christmas

The holiday rush has ended and we now move into the great decompression and what is known in gaming parlance as inventorying of the loots.

The fiancee and I, nerds as we are, love to give and receive games as gifts. This Christmas was certainly no exception. Here is a list of our games given and received.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Darth Nicholas

My lovely sister gave me a Lego Star Wars advent calendar for my birthday back in November. Now, I am a big fan of Lego, Star Wars (at least the original trilogy) and Christmas. I am also a fan of Lego Star Wars and potentially of Lego Christmas, and at least ironically entertained by Star Wars Christmas but mixing all three together creates a melange of flavors that is eclectic, dissonant and possessed of some very bizarre potentials... and Lego appears eager to explore these odd potentials to their fullest.

Now, most of the advent entries are what you would expect from a Lego Star Wars advent calendar: mini-spaceship models and Star Wars-themed mini-figs, many of them related to the scenes set on the ice planet, Hoth. The grand finale of the calendar, however, takes things to the next level. The sets for December 23 and 24 realize the full flavor potential of Lego Star Wars Christmas. The set for the 23rd is a snowman R2 droid, and for the 24th... Darth Maul dressed as Santa Claus holding a snow shovel. The mind reels.

Okay... maybe this is actually a step up from the Star Wars Christmas special.

Merry Christmas, happy Life Day, etc.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sketches of Yore

I used to be quite the prolific drawer in my youth. This kind, not that kind. Recently, I pulled a load of my old stuff out of storage, and uncovered a plethora of sketches drawn up during my childhood. Flipping through the sheaves of artwork brought back quite a few memories. It also provided adult me with a wonderful glimpse into the mind that was young me. Poring over the fruits of my creative impulses, now protected from the hormonal mire that was my adolescent brain by an irreversible temporal buffer, I was able to analyze the works with a more objective, dare I say wiser, eye.

I drew a number of conclusions while sifting through the ephemera of my past:

  • I was a weird kid in quite an amusing sort of way.
  • Stuff that I thought was super awesome at the time often did not hold up to later scrutiny.
  • I was politically opinionated in a way that only unfiltered, too-smart kids can be: driven by a desire to seem edgy or at least not dull, but which in practice comes across as reactionary.
  • I had a real emo streak before "emo" was a word. Lots of pictures of moody teens, half-drawn faces, single eyes and leafless trees.

I have wanted to scan my earlier scribblings into a digital format for some time now. After this most recent perusal, I finally began that process. I think I will share a selection of them here, along with the stories... when they exist behind just what the heck I was thinking.

Portrait of the artist at work

I actually have several drawings related to unorthodox systems for spaceflight

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flexing my Mini Muscles

So, I have taken steps...

Jeremy Bates commented on my last post, suggesting that I change my habits in order to break out of the aforementioned creative funk. As I thought things through, I realized that a change was just the ticket I needed to get out of Funkytown (see what I did there?)

I realized that my malaise had spread to more than just my creative endeavors. I was also feeling unfocused at work. It didn't take me long to realize that the incredible amount of clutter that filled both my physical and digital life was creeping in to clutter my head. To remedy this, I turned to some videos on time management, Gmail power use, and Outlook organization from Over the course of a couple days, I got both my work and personal email inboxes down from over 1000 emails each to just the one or two active conversations I had going on. I also did a major clean of my office workspace and set up a massive OneNote brain dump of all the to-dos I had rattling around in my head. All of this cleaning and organizing was aimed at one ultimate goal. Get my thoughts into an organized structure so my head could be clear for creative pursuits. So far, it seems to have helped.

Now to the point... minis! Over the past couple days, I used my newfound Zen to churn out a couple mini-painting projects!

I now give you, the three forms of Templeton the wererat

and Daethin Moonshadow, elven ranger

I'm pretty happy with how these turned out, especially since I have painted less than a dozen minis ever (including these) and that these were the first to include human flesh tones and un-obscured faces. Nevertheless, after feeling all good about my work, I made the mistake of looking back at the tutorial pages for the painting techniques I used and find myself feeling super inadequate once again. Ah well, my next step is to practice with some ultra thin paints in an effort to get smoother application and less caking. I fully intend to have this painting thing mastered by the time those 250+ Reaper Bones minis arrive next year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Creative Doldrums

Being December 2012's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group

I have been one of those ubiquitous creative funks of late. It's not exactly a block because I know what I need to do to move forward. It's just that none of the creative projects I have sitting around appeal to me. I have several blog topics jotted in my notebook, partially painted minis on my desk, partially written adventures for the next step in my D&D game, and even a really engaging book that I've been picking my way through at a snail's pace. I feel a bit like the despondent child with too many toys, surrounded by fun, but having none of it. Waaaah!

That's not to say that I haven't been doing anything creative. I have occasionally been dabbling here and there. I recently watched a bunch of instructional videos on OneNote and have been using my knew knowledge to reorganize my D&D notes into a more functional system.*  Like everything else, however, my reorganization remains unfinished. To make matters worse, I only feel the faintest spark of inspiration when I'm at work and can't devote time to this stuff.  I have created this handy graphic, which illustrates my current creative process quite nicely.

What do you do to break out of the creative blahs?

*I may even upload a blank copy of my notebook structure, or at least a couple pages in case any of you are OneNote GMs too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fast Prep with Personality

Last week I was ridiculously busy. I was racing towards a gallery opening at work, getting the house reorganized after our epic Halloween shenanigans, buying birthday presents for my niece, working on the weekend, fending off a creeping cold and generally not doing any prep for my usual Wednesday game. By the time my group decided that we were absolutely going to play, it was already Wednesday morning. This left me with my lunch break to come up with a plan for tackling the night's adventures.

Now, I've done short-prep games before, but at less than an hour this was by far the shortest. I knew I needed to be fast and to prep ONLY THE THINGS I WOULD NEED TO SURVIVE!

I decided to stick with my typical strategy for quick-prep games and start with the characters involved. The previous session, my players had rescued a group of slaves from some hobgoblin mercenaries and had taken one of the hobs prisoner. I knew that the party would likely want to get information out of the various NPCs and to get the slaves back to safety.

The first thing I did was figure out the makeup of the group of slaves. This consisted of single sentence or even single word descriptions of their appearance, occupation and, of course, their names. I made sure to throw some variety into the group and to use the characters to establish some potential conflict points. How do the slaves react to their former captors? What condition are the various slaves in? I wrote some of these points down, but just kept others in mind. When nothing was written, I used the character's brief description to establish a likely personality.

and that was it. That was my prep.

Granted, certain other things made additional prep unnecessary. My players had stated their intent to retrace their steps through a previously traversed cave system, so I didn't need to plot out new locations. They had also left a couple obstacles in their path, including a cave full of previously turned undead.

By focusing on the characters first. The fast-prep game became a really engaging escort mission. Jittery slaves on the verge of madness tried to flee or went catatonic, the mercenary prisoner made an unsuccessful escape attempt, and the undead very nearly took out several of the players' precious cargo. I felt that creating varied personalities for each of the NPCs made all the difference in the world. The session wouldn't have been nearly as engaging if the players were simply escorting slaves 1-7.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Work plug: Into the Twitterverse

Update: my idiot self added a restricted image link... here's one that shows up.

Are you a twit? Have you ever twat? if the answer to either of those questions is either, "yes!" and/or "WTF you talkin' 'bout Spork!?" You might consider tuning in for my first ever professional TweetUp.

I may be a fantasy RPG nerd by night, but by day I make a living as a spaceflight nerd. Apparently this qualifies me as a "museum expert". I have been asked to join a panel of fellow "experts" discussing the opening of my museum's new gallery, which features the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer. So, if you like tweeting, or Space Shuttles, or have an Anime-like obsession with training, you might want to check it out.

For reference, my Twitter handle is @Geoff_n in case anyone feels like following my occasional 140 character brain farts.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Mash-ups 2: Super Smash!

Even though only a couple folks chimed in on last week's first Monday Mash-up, the conversation in the comments produced some great ideas for characters that left my brain buzzing all week. Therefore, I'mma do it all over again now!

This week's mash-up theme is super heroes and, more specifically, their alter egos:

I love alternate universe and spin-off comic plot lines, and one of my favorites is the Marvel 1602 mini-series.

If you aren't familiar with it, the series places several well known Marvel comic book characters in the world of the late Elizabethan period. Sir Nicholas Fury is the Queen's intelligencer, Carlos Javier is a monk running a school for gifted youth... you get the picture.

I also had the privilege of playing in a Song of Ice and Fire campaign that included NPCs based on super hero alter egos. I recall burining down a bandit camp run by Oliver Queen. Anyway, here is my example to get you all started:

Ayric Lensherr
Sorcerer (Electromancer) Level 10.
Ayric's comes from a racial minority group, who have periodically been subjected to pogroms undertaken by the despotic ruling families of the realms. After witnessing his parents' deaths during one such purging and upon discovering his unique sensitivity to magic, Ayric became determined to use his strength against all who would seek to oppress or control him. Now, faced with a new threat by those seeking to purge the influence and control of magic users from the land, Ayric has hatched a plan to turn the tables and exert his powers over his enemies.

Spell list
I envision skinning all of these spells as some sort of manipulation of either metal or electro-magnetic energy.
L0: Resistance, Detect Magic, Read Magic, Daze, Dancing Lights, Mage Hand, Touch of Fatigue, Open/Close, Arcane Mark
L1: Tensers Floating Disk, Shocking Grasp, Feather Fall, Shield, Hold Portal
L2: Resist Energy (electricity), Glitterdust, Shatter, Knock
L3: Hold Person, Lightning Bolt, Fly
L4: Globe of Invulnerability (lesser), Rainbow Pattern
L5: Telekenesis

Okay, now it's your turn! No need to be as detailed as mine, but go!

Oh, and feel free to add to last week's post as well if the fancy strikes you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween 2012!

Well, it's Halloween and the Fiancee and I threw our annual get together last Saturday. As I mentioned previously, we decided to go as galactic centurions this year. I can say without hesitation that this was my most ambitious costume project to-date. When combined with two busy work schedules and the fact that we didn't get rolling on the build until early October, let's just say it put a bit of a strain on our otherwise happy household. But, we finished the costumes (about an hour before people arrived), had a wonderful party and are now back to our lovely selves making everyone want to barf with our cuteness.

A reminder of the original concept

Anyway, here are some final pics of how the costumes turned out!


Happy Halloween everyone! or at least dry and safe if you're on the east coast.

Oh, and if you haven't seen this unrelated bit of amazing, check it out!

"It's all in the reflexes..."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Mash-ups: Blending of the Bands

Check out the other stuff at SILLOF. Very cool!

Call them mash-ups, cross-overs, or whatever you like (just don't call them a comeback) I love genre bending and borrowing/stealing inspiration from sources otherwise unrelated to my particular ouvre.

This post will hopefully be the first of a series of interactive brainstorms which will work thusly:

  1. I present a theme for the week's mash-up and a couple examples.
  2. You all continue to riff on the theme, coming up with your own ideas and adding them to the comments section.
  3. Profit (by which I mean, the post gets archived for later access).

The idea is to build a collection of readymade characters, locations or other ideas that anyone can access if he/she/it's stuck on a particular project... or if anyone just needs a good laugh.

So, here goes! This week's theme is:

Fantasy characters based on bands and/or musicians


  • Steely Dan
    • A plate-clad mercenary who uses his trade as a way to travel the world looking for his lost love.
  • Gordon Lightfoot
    • Halfling rogue. Earned a nasty reputation for single-handedly sinking a ship carrying valuable ores for the royal armories.
  • Burrell McHammer
    • Dwarven Paladin tasked with guarding a mysterious treasure to which access is strictly forbidden.
  • Björk Guðmundsdóttir
    • Elven druid from the northlands who can shape-shift into a swan.

Okay, your turn! If folks get into this, I'll keep the Monday Mash-ups going with new themes in the weeks to come!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sporkchop's Real-World Adventures: Italy Part 2

In this second installment about my adventures in Italy, we'll start to get into some of the specific escapades in which the Fiancee and I were involved. In the posts to come, I will recount a real world adventure and then offer up some ways it could act as inspiration for a game or fantasy story plot.

"Siate molto tranquilla, siamo funghi caccia."

(be very quiet, we're hunting mushrooms)

I had gone on mushroom hunts in my home state of Washington, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. Boy, was I mistaken. Mushroom hunting is serious business in the Italian countryside. One does not simply walk into mushrooms. No, in Italy, a mushroom hunt is a serious expedition, which involves clambering your way through underbrush clinging to steep wooded hillsides, usually far from any noticeable trail.

When mushroom hunting in Italy, it is best to go with a guide, and the best guides may be Italian doctors. Bit of trivia: All Italian doctors are trained to recognize edible funghi. They can tell you the difference between an edible bolete and "Satan's bolete". Fortunately, for us, our guide was Dr. Gaggi.

The Dottore was a compact pain in the butt who looked a bit like a cross between Elmer Fudd and Dr. Werner Klopek from the Burbs. Oh, and the only English he knew, he learned from watching Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris movies.

The doctor just said something awkward,
though my brain has blocked it out.

Anyway, aside from learning that Italian mushroom hunting feels more like traveling in country than taking a vacation-time stroll, I found out that Italian mushroom hunters are EXTREMELY TERRITORIAL. When you go, you do not speak above a whisper and you sure as hell don't say things like, "Hey! look what I found!" All communication within the group is done by whistles and hand signals...unless, of course, your guide takes off on his own leaving a bunch of tourists stranded in the middle of woodsy nowhere. 

If you see or hear another group of hunters, you steer clear of them. You also make sure that all of your finds quickly make it into the basket held by the person with the foraging permit.

So, why is mushroom hunting in Italy such an adventure? Well, there's a really awesome selection to be found if you know where to look. I also think there are a lot more mushroom hunters, which bumps up the competition for the best hunting spots. Despite these challenges, the rewards are well worth the effort.

Now, how do I apply this to my nerd world?

For a creative, storytelling sort like myself, my Italian mushroom hunting experience has spawned several ideas for ways to translate and extrapolate it into a fantasy setting. Imagine a remote location known for its supply of some finite resource. It could be mushrooms, crystals, a fuzzy and delicious breed of hamster. Whatever it is, the competition over this resource is key to unlocking adventure. Perhaps there are rituals or regulations around how this resource can be gathered. The presence of an ambitious diviner or druid magically pointing out where things can be found might cause some tension among those who favor more traditional... and less effective methods. Perhaps one local is known for closely guarding the secret to his/her success in the foraging field. How far would that local go to keep the secret? Maybe an outside force, be it monster, weather or plague is depleting the supply. How would that reduced access affect the locals' behavior and well-being?

The potential plots arise like porcini poking through the loam.

Happy hunting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Kindness of Gamers

I gotta say, gamers are some of the nicest dang people you ever could meet... or at least some of the gamers I've met fit that bill. The good-naturedness has just hit critical mass around these parts and I feel compelled to offer up several well-earned shout outs.

First, to Realmwright who recently made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside by taking an interest in some of my digital map work. Be sure to check out his blog and see where he takes the map he selected!

Second, I'd like to thank my buddies, Ruxbin and Tendrilsfor20 for their generous gaming natures. Not only, do they let me bounce ideas off of them, but frequently they bring gifts for exchange and or unsolicited giving. So, thank you for the sourcebooks, piles of Dungeon magazines and other contributions to my nerdly well-being.

Finally, there is this. Be forewarned, it's a doozy.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Costume Update

The Fiancee and I finally had some time to work on our galactic centurion costumes this past weekend. We both have the basic structure of our breastplates just about finished. I cut out the template for my pauldrons (shoulder pads) tonight and plan to cut, bend and (weather-permitting) prime the foam for them tomorrow.

My armor in-progress with the ridiculously messy table behind it.

The Fiancee's armor is primed. I think she's a D12 cup.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sporkchop's Real-World Adventures: Part 1

After setting out to write this blog post, things quickly became very long and cumbersome. As such, I have decided to split it into several separate posts that will appear in the days to come.

At the end of September, I took my first major vacation in over a decade and my first international trip with the Fiancee. We spent two weeks puttering around Italy, learning a great deal about the culture, ourselves and what we look for in a travel experience.

La Tavola Marche as seen from the road to mushrooms.

The best part of the trip was definitely the week we spent sitting on a farm in the Apennine Mountains. We stayed at La Tavola Marche, an agriturismo and cooking school housed in a 300 year-old farm house. It’s 4 km down a dirt road from the main highway and about 10 km from the nearest village and that is exactly how we like it. We made the mistake of booking four days in Florence for the week after we went to Marche. We thought, “Florence, birthplace of the Rennaissance... it’ll be a great cultural climax to the trip!” Boy were we wrong. After the week in Marche, Florence felt like Disneyland (in the fake touristy sense, not the fun rides sense).

Fine examples of Florentine "culture"

Full disclosure, one of the farm’s owners is a high school friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, so the catching up certainly enhanced the experience. However, despite my admitted predisposition to like La Tavola Marche, our time there still exceeded my wildest expectations.

A Perfect Basecamp

The door to our apartment in Marche

The fiancee and I both use a similar strategy when we travel. We like to set up a base of operations and then set out for adventure from a position of strength. Marche was ideal for this sort of thing. Though the farm is certainly remote, it is a quick half-hour to hour drive out to diverse and fascinating locales. We made day trips to the seaside town of Fano on the Adriatic, the close and walled-in Urbino, the pottery-laden Gubbio, which clings to a rugged, pine-speckled mountainside, and even a ruined medieval village perched on a hilltop across from the farm. The combination of isolation and adjacency made La Tavola Marche the perfect jumping off point for experiencing the “real” Italy.

Fiancee in Urbania
Fano. Notice, the Speedo matches the umbrellas!

When we visited Florence and, to a lesser degree, Bologna, I didn’t feel like we were experiencing authentic Italian life. The everpresent tourist had oxidized it, eroded away the culture until the culture became a sort of caricature of itself. Yes, the duomo in Florence still holds services, but its primary role has become that of a tourist site. The leather school trains fine leather workers, but many of its rooms are dedicated to teasing open the pocketbooks of affluent foreigners. The culture and purpose of the city feels tarnished, lessened by the constant interaction with tourism. It is not longer the cradle of the rennaissance thought, it is a place to take pictures of the leftovers.

Stay classy, Florence

The tourist throngs on the steps of the Duomo

Out in Marche, however, things felt different. Though many of the places we visited get some tourists and contain shops with the usual tourist schlock, they are not primary destinations. They are not yet coated in an all-encompassing Americanized patina. Shopkeepers and restauranteurs don’t immediately switch to speaking English when they hear you speak in a lolcats-worthy Italian pidgin. The experiences I enjoyed the most were the ones where I was forced to struggle to understand, where I was being treated as a person, or a curious foreigner, and not a Tourist.

In my next post, I'll get into some of our specific adventures.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dropped Projects: When the Old Shiny Becomes New Again

What's this!?
I know I'm a day late, but this is my post for this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group

Old projects, why can't I quit you?

I have noticed that my behavior pattern when it comes to creative projects/hobbies tends to run like so:

  1. Discover new and exciting activity
  2. Get really enthusiastic about and put a lot of effort into activity
  3. Get frustrated or bored with the imperfections that become apparent in activity
  4. Drop activity in favor of newer, shinier activity that looks more promising
  5. Time passes
  6. Notice old activity again
  7. Get that old excited feeling
  8. Remember how the excitement wore off
  9. Hem and haw about whether to pick up old activity again
  10. Repeat from step 1

Seriously, it is the exact same pattern as an abusive relationship! I can point to many specific activities that I have picked up, danced with and discarded in this fashion, including the following:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bonus: Tuesday Serenade

Running with the theme of amazing foam-based costumes, I give you...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Costume Business

The fiancee and I do not partake in cosplay, nor do we LARP. However, we are both HUGE fans of Halloween--her moreso than me. Over the years, the Halloween season has consistently been one of those relationship benchmarks which defines the character of our year.

"Hey, which year did we go camping on the coast?"
"Oh, that was the summer before we were Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett... so, 2009"

Halloween is a big deal for us, and if the fiancee hasn't started pestering me for costume ideas by July, we're behind schedule.

This year, we are definitely behind schedule, having just come up with our final plan this weekend. Nevertheless, we have decided to tackle perhaps our most audacious costume project thus far. Our decision came about during a drive to the grocery store and a conversation that went something like this... ahem...

Fiancee: "I think we should look for a more general theme for our costumes this year... like when we were mad scientists. When we pick specific characters, we always end up struggling to match the costumes exactly and have to blow money ordering replica Sweeney Todd razors or something."
Me: "I agree."
Fiancee: "We need to make a costume decision this weekend!"
Me: "Yeah, I know."
F: "Okay, so what do you look for in a Halloween costume? What gets you excited about making a costume?"
M: "I like costumes that involve LEDs."
F: "I want something with a fabulous wig, and maybe an awesome sword." (Reason # a bajillion why I love this woman)
Thoughtful pause
M: "You know, this might be biting off a lot at this point, but... what if... we went as some sort of futuristic warriors, like with tech armor and crazy glowing swords. We could be... galactic centurions."
F: "YES! We're doing this!"

So, we got home and I popped on to Hero Machine to draft a concept for my costume. For those confused by the term, "galactic centurion", this is what I'm thinking.

Galactic Centurion Concept made with HM3

We also discovered that the internet has a wealth of information on building DIY foam armor!

Thus is our project for the month is defined. I will try to keep you posted as things progress, but for the time-being check out our related Pinterest board! I now leave you with this assortment of images from our Halloweens past.

2011: Action-Serial Air Pirates

2010: Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier
2009: Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett

2008: Mad Scientists
2007: Robot Lincoln!
It was images of this costume that first convinced the future fiancee to respond to my emails.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Back on the Grid

Hello dear readers. I apologize for my nearly month-long absence, but I have been on vacation for the past two weeks! More specifically, I have been on vacation in Italy! More more specifically, my vacation in Italy was largely spent on a farm in the middle of the Apennine Mountains in the Marche region.

Let me tell you, it was glorious and provided a great deal of inspirational fodder that I do not doubt will work its way into my creative endeavors. From the characters I met to the tourist maps I collected in the cities I explored with the fiancee... all gold.

Some of the cooler things I learned include:

Old Italian farmhouses were built with a specific heating plan in mind. The ground floor housed the animals, whose body heat rose to the first floor providing a little extra heat for the farmhands. The body heat from the farmhands then rose to the top floor where the land owners lived. Their body heat helped supplement the heat from the fireplaces, which were set into the walls of the top floor.

Italian hunters have a phrase equivalent to the declaration "break a leg" used to wish actors good luck. If you meet an Italian hunter, be sure to say: "In bocca al lupo!" which translates to "In the mouth of the wolf". The hunter will likely respond by throwing the metal horns and saying "crepi il lupo" "Death to the wolf!"

The equivalent statement for fishermen is "In culo alla belena!" or "Into the ass of the whale!" to which the response would be "Fammi luce!" or "Give me light!"

Just exploring some 1000 year-old ruins with my sweetie.

Anyway, I just got back last night and am in the process of uploading photos. This album should work, if you want to check it out... if it doesn't, it's probably my FB security settings.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tutorial: Flying on the Cheap

As the PCs in my campaign continue to rise in levels, they find themselves facing increasingly more complex enemies and wielding increasingly more powerful spells. Lately, they've been frequently dealing with baddies possessed of the logistically problematic ability to fly and have often countered this ability with their own fly spells.

Flying characters are a pain in the butt to distinguish from their grounded counterparts when playing on a battle grid, especially if one character decides to move directly over or under another. This weekend, I finally acted on something I've been thinking about for a long time and built myself a cheap but effective flying rig, which allows me to display flying minis above the battle mat in a way that can be quickly adjusted to a wide range of specific altitudes. Even better, it only took a few minutes to build each rig and only cost me a few bucks to buy the supplies.

Fly my pretty! Fly!
The rig I built will support a plastic mini of up to large size or a pewter mini of up to medium size. It accommodates an altitude variation between 10 and 60 feet above the battle mat.

 Here's what you need.

The items on the left are for the bare-bones model.
The stuff on the right is used to improve the mini holder.

Basic Supplies:

All of these should be available from a well-stocked hobby/craft store

  • 1 doll stand (2 inch base $0.99 at the craft store)
  • 1 metal rod (a pack of five 3/32" diameter aluminum rods was $3.50 at the craft store)
  • 1 small clothes pin (a 24 pack of 2" long pins was $3.50)
  • sticky tack (I had some lying around the house, but you can get it at any office supply or craft store)
  • ruler
  • permanent marker

Additional supplies for a better mini holder:

  • masking tape
  • small paperclips
  • cork (I used a coaster from a pack we picked up at Ikea. A bit of shelf liner would work too.)
  • craft magnets (I had these lying around the house.)
  • matte knife
  • glue stick

Building the basic stand:

Step 1
Step 1: Pull the top out of the doll stand and drop in the rod. Measure the height of the stand to get your minimum setting. Mine looks like about 2 inches (10 feet in game scale)

Step 2
Step 2: Pull out the rod and mark your minimum setting and 1-inch intervals along the length of the rod.

Step 3

Step 3: Put the rod back in the doll stand and add a bit of sticky tack at the base and around the top part of the doll stand. Make sure the rod is relatively vertical before placing the sticky tack.

Step 4
Step 4: Clip the small opening of the clothespin around the rod.

The basic version is finished by adding a bit of sticky tack or double-stick tape to the top of the clothespin for attaching the minis. I found that the sticky tack caused minis to attempt a sort of bungie jump off the stand after only a couple minutes. That's why I went on to experiment with improved platforms.

Improving the Platform:

My solution to the mini holder is still experimental. It works pretty well, but it could definitely still be improved. Here's how to make it.

Step 1A
Step 1B
Step 1C

Step 1: Bend a small paperclip as shown above and check to make sure the end fits through the center of the clothespin's spring. If necessary, add a bit of masking tape to ensure a snug fit. Make sure you use metal paperclips that will stick to magnets.

Step 2A

Step 2B
Step 2: Cut a bit of cork in the shape of your magnet and glue the two together.

Step 3: Stick the magnet on the paperclip and attach the clothespin to the rod. You now have an aerial platform for your minis!

Making adjustments:

To adjust the altitude, it is probably easiest to remove the mini before sliding the clothespin up or down.
If your mini topples the flying rig over, try bending the doll stand slightly forward to keep the center of gravity over the base.

Now you're ready to fly!


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