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.

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