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Jan 31, 2014

Continental Map of Shaarzahn

Here's the map of the upcoming forum RPG, Shaarzahn! I had fun this time trying to make it look like a realistic bird's-eye view, almost like a shot from Google Maps. It obviously has some flaws, but I was still impressed with the way it turned out. This will be the base for other maps I'll make for the game, including political boundary maps and a "hand-drawn" version for lore's sake.

Jan 30, 2014


Well, the Beat the Sweet Challenge is going okay. I've kept to it, avoiding anything sweeter than 3g of sugar per serving, for the past two weeks. This meant turning down some amazing-looking desserts at work and a dinner party, but it felt good to have that much self-control. It's amazing how much we really don't need sugar at all. Unfortunately, I'm not really seeing any beneficial effects from doing this sugar fast. I don't have any more energy, I still have down days with little motivation, and I don't feel any difference in my health or weight. I think I'll cut down on it after the month's up as a habit, but I'm definitely not going to go without it forever.
The hardest part is breakfast. I think it's great to start off one's day with French toast or something else with syrup in it. Or even sweet cereal. I've missed that most of all. But thank heavens for fruit, especially bananas and tangerines. They've kept me going. Halfway there!

In other news, I got quite a scare this week when Argaenothruzil went down for nearly three days. I thought I had lost all of my lore writings, as well as several of my best stories. In fact, my cousin Robert (of the Whited Wall blog) and I planned on making a new one, with several differences that would mitigate some of the clichéd aspects of Argae. Fortunately, Argaenothruzil came back online this morning and I was able to save the stories, but we're still excited to start something new for a change. I know most of you readers won't really care to join us, but it may be a good source of stories and graphic art for you from us.

This month has been an amazing start to this year! With this post, I already come in to the 3rd-highest number of posts in a single month in Pretzel Lectern history. Thanks for reading, and here's to keeping my post count high this year!

Jan 17, 2014

Abelhawk's Top 10 Most Nostalgic Computer Game Songs of All Time (Part 2)

Click here for the first 5 of the list!

#6: Xargon Map Screen

I'm venturing into territory that's really hard to narrow down. I played so many DOS shareware games as a kid that there are a lot of nostalgic ones that could replace this one. I guess I may make an Honorable Mentions section bonus post sometime. Anyhow, this game was an odd one. Its genre was hard to narrow down. Epic fantasy? Science fiction? Acid trip dreamworld? It stood out to me, though, because the graphics were VGA instead of EGA, and the music used a sort of synthesized wobble bass that made it very mysterious—your character was definitely entering a new world. I remember playing this and wondering about the lore of the game with my brother. I remember in particular nerding out at the preview for the full version of the game, which I, sadly, never played.

#7: Commander Keen - Hillville

No nostalgic computer game list of mine would be complete without a reference to Commander Keen. There is a lot of good music in this game, some of it that scared me as a kid. But this one was almost like an easy-listening musak of a background music that was on easier levels. This game was one of the earliest I ever played, and I actually beat it when I was like five years old. I also enjoy reminiscing about Commander Keen because my mom, who never liked computer games, would play this with me all the time. Someday I would love to dress up like Billy Blaze for Halloween.

#8: Tyrian, The Level

This was one of the only arcade-style shoot-em-ups I ever liked, mostly because it was multiplayer. My brother and I would crowd around the same keyboard and play co-op together: he would play the Player 1 ship with the arrow keys, and I would play Player 2 with the mouse. This game was also only at our grandparents' house, so we never mastered the game (or even made it very far), but I look back to the times we shot down enemy ships side-by-side with fondness. So much, in fact, that this song happens to be my brother's ringtone!

#9: Runescape Main Theme (Original)

Runescape was a fun time in my life that I miss. I was in junior high when my brother introduced me to the game, and I had many fun hours on it together with my friends. It was back in the days of Dial-Up connections, so we had to make sure not to pick up the phone or we would lose the game connection. This particular song was the original theme of Runescape "2," the massive graphics and gameplay overhaul that came after Runescape Classic. Since they changed this theme later (twice, in fact), this song reminds me of the way Runescape used to be—simple, fun, and social, like my life at the time.

#10: Heroes of Might and Magic III Menu Theme

I've saved one of the best for last. This song, like all songs in this game, is a beautifully orchestrated masterpiece. Few other title themes have made me more excited to go on a medieval adventure than this one, with its baroque-sounding, elegant feel. It has always sounded to me like walking through a gallery of golden artifacts. This game was one of the most interesting and influential on my middle-school self's art and projects, and I still proudly own it today.

* * *

I think what makes songs nostalgic is the way it makes things seem simpler in former times. All of these songs remind me of when my world was less full of technology, when graphics cards and powerful CPUs didn't matter so much, and when my friends and I were closest.

Jan 16, 2014

Graymansnight and Other Holidays

What is a holiday? Etymology clearly spells out "holy day," which explains how they originated. In ancient times they were times of celebration and commemoration. I'm sure I'm not alone in that I have several "made-up" holidays that have come about over the years to celebrate or commemorate.
Obviously, everyone has his or her own birthday to celebrate each year, and most of the time you won't meet anyone who shares that day (I have, a fellow I met while in Brazil, in fact), and anniversaries are universal as well. But what about days on which something great happened, or a day that you just wanted to remember for years to come? Here are all the holidays I can think of that have meant something over the years.

June 14 - Mud Day

This one came entirely on purpose. During summer vacation of 2001ish, I decided I wanted to make up a holiday. So I came up with Mud Day. Basically all I did to commemorate this makeshift holiday was make a mud puddle and play in it for a couple of hours. But I did make a little mud sculpture to remember the day. When it dried and I tried to pick it up it crumbled, so I just kept a little dirt clod in a box for a few years. I celebrated Mud Day once more the next summer, and then promptly forgot about it.

December 6 - Pink Day

I hesitate to even mention my eighth grade year, because I was at the sappiest, weirdest, and most awkward stage of my life; however, for the sake of nostalgia, I shall elaborate. There was a girl I was obsessed with in eighth grade, a cheerleader, and it was one of those things where I had no basis for liking her other than hormones. My friends and I, for whatever reason, came up with a system of colors to describe our mood. My journal preserved these, but red was anger, green was jealousy, yellow was excitement, and so on. Pink was happiness. On December 6, 2002, I was sitting alone at lunch like usual, and all the other tables were full. The cheerleaders got their hot lunch and had no choice but to sit at mine. They largely ignored me, and I them, but I bet I was blushing something furious, because inside I couldn't believe fate had smiled on me so. I remember being so amazed at this occurence that I kept a scrap of my paper lunch bag from that day as a souvineer of divine favor. I obviously never commemorated that day again, since a year later that girl was history, but because it made such an impact on me that day not a December 6 goes by that I'm not reminded of my poor, pathetic junior high self, and the pinkness that I experienced that day.

??? - Graymansnight

One day sometime in November or December of 2006, my three best friends (later named the Gray Brothers, after this day) and I went to a park in our town at night. We made a small fire, and our discussions turned to how scary the things were around us. The trees were all dead and devoid of leaves, the cloudy moon was out, there was even a ragged tire swing nearby. We talked about horror movies in general, and I talked about how what made something scary was mystery. A vague name like the Gray Man, I said, would be really scary (I think that in itself came from the Grey Lady, the name of various legendary ghosts). We started telling scary hypothetical scenarios about the campsite around us. About one of us disappearing, then showing up hanged from the branches of a nearby tree... Sounds of gruff whispering... shadows in the moonlight...
One of my friends was the first to chicken out, and since he was the driver, we left. But even after going to another friend's house we enjoyed taking creepy pictures that day. It was a day of bonding, and now that we have separated ways since high school we think of it as a time when we were the closest as a Gray Brotherhood.
I have since considered using the name of this holiday as an alternative to Halloween in a fantasy book or something. I just wish we had recorded which day of the year it was..

June 22 - Yearly Journal Day

I've always been a good journal-writer. I've kept a consistent journal since 2002, and before that I had several part-time journals that I kept from grade school and middle school, and even one or two summer journals. As mentioned before, I was extremely sappy in eighth grade, and because of this the journal for that year is full of uninteresting material I needed to write down just to get out of my system, rather than read again. Towards the end of that journal, when I was probably a sophomore in high school, even I realized what I had done was mostly record my reputation as a girl-crazy hormonal intrapubescent. I bought a new journal when the other one was incomplete, and perhaps in an effort to show that I really did grow up, I've since written a one-page entry each year in that journal, on the anniversary of my final entry. It has been interesting to see how each year something monumental has happened: I went through school, graduated, went on my two-year crusade, began dating for the first time, married, got pregnant, had a child, and now this year I have a new child on the way to look forward to writing. A yearly journal is an interesting thing—it really shows you how fast time goes on a yearly basis.

May 6 - Dia da Bahia

I served in the Brazilian state of Bahia during my crusade, and I returned home on May 6, 2010. While I prepare and eat Brazilian meals consistently throughout the year, I always make a special effort to celebrate the culture I learned to love on the day I returned home from it. Popular choices for food are pão de queijo, feijoada with farofa, and guaraná soda.

* * *

Holidays bring traditions, and traditions bring social closeness and, well, fun! Share any of your own personal holidays in the comments below.

Jan 15, 2014

Abelhawk's Top 10 Most Nostalgic Computer Game Songs of All Time (Part 1)

Time to get nostalgic! For an optimal experience while reading this post, I suggest you play the song while reading each description. It may help you understand what makes the music so memorable to me.

#1: Rat Poker Title Theme

My uncles had this game on the computer at my grandma's house, and I loved listening to it. I didn't much understand the game, but I liked to stand nearby just to listen to the charming MIDI tune. The reason I put this as #1 is because of a single memory in my mind: When we were planning to stay at Grandma's house for a week or so while my mom went into labor, I distinctly remember thinking "If we run out of things to do, I can just listen to Rat Poker all afternoon."

#2: Lords of Magic - Order

Listen to that. Just listen to the calm, noble chords of that mandolin or guitar instrument. Every time I hear this song I can feel myself transported to a medieval fantasy world where times are tough but magic makes things easier. This is another song that not only brings me back to simpler times, but also is just a really touching, soothing song. Again, a memory about this song qualified it for second place. I remember once while listening to the song on the game thinking "I'd like to die while listening to this music." Decades later, I still agree that this song's melody would be a peaceful way to slip into the afterlife.

#3: Wacky Wheels Intro Theme

What memories! What a fun title theme! What—is that a camel in a go-cart? This is possibly the first multiplayer game my brother and I played together when we were kids (and back then, that meant sharing one keyboard). I have many memories of this game, and all of them began with firing up the game and listening to this exciting tune that just makes you want to put on a raccoon suit (just kidding, the raccoon was the retail version and we just had the shareware) and race other animals while throwing hedgehogs at each other.

#4: Treasure Mountain

This song probably wins the award for the furthest-back-reaching nostalgia. This game was in the school computer lab where I went to first grade. I still remember back when bright colors (especially cyan) were so widespread in EGA graphics games, including this one. This game actually had some sequels that were equally nostalgic, but none so much as this lilting, AdLib soundblaster refrain.

#5: Age of Empires - Conquest

This song is gorgeous. Ensemble Studios did an incredible job on the music of this game. Even though it's synthesized, it sounds like the birth of civilization, like hunting and gathering to survive, like waking up after a dark night. It's easy to imagine tribes trying to survive in the prehistoric world to this music. These songs are especially nostalgic because I haven't played this game for so many years. Even when we were playing it, I remember more of my time was spent reading the extensive strategy guide during free reading time in fourth grade.


That's all for today. I'll continue the top ten songs on a future post!

Jan 13, 2014

The Beat the Sweet Challenge!

Okay, it's official: I now need to come up with a month-long project every year. Two years ago it was the Techno Quaresma, last year was the memorable Data Month, and this year's is the...


The rules are as follows:
  • Nothing sweet whatsoever. No candy, soda, sweet cereal, etc., obviously; but also no honey, sugar-free stuff, or anything that has more than 3 grams of sugar per serving (basically Grape Nuts and under). Fresh fruit is fine; juice and jam is not.
  • General healthiness-feeling, cravings, and energy levels will be documented daily. Weight would also be a fun thing to measure but I don't have a scale.
  • It will go for one month, starting January 13 at 11:59 AM. and ending on Valentine's Day at 12:00 AM.
  • Condiments, such as barbecue sauce, is fine as long as they're used sparingly.
  • Milk is fine, even though it has quite a few grams of sugar.
From certain podcasts and things I've listened to lately, it'll really be interesting to see what happens. Will I have loads more energy? Will I feel stronger, more resolute, determined, and aggressive? Will I lose weight? Sleep better? I'm anxious to find out.

Everything starts tonight. I'm partaking of my last pieces of sweetness during the day and having a soda to kick things off. Then the challenge begins!

Jan 10, 2014

Children of Gods

I've been a parent for a year and a half now, and I've noticed something about the way my daughter regards me. She treats my wife and me like gods.
Think about our stature, our power, our knowledge. Think of the way my year-and-a-half-old daughter perceives this.
Out and about, she finds a granola bar or a cheese single, or even a simple plastic snack bag with pretzels inside it. She knows by now that food brings happiness and fullness, so she does the only thing she can do in order to eat them: she gives it to one of us to open.
No matter how hard my little girl would try to open a granola bar, she could not open it on her own. Her fingers are tiny, her coordination is insufficient, and she simply doesn't know how to open it. So she trusts in one of us, her gods, to do it for her so that she can eat.
Imagine the other things she sees us do. We tower over her at more than twice her height. We are giants who can somehow catch her no matter how fast she runs away; we can carry her at quick speeds; we are the ones who put her in a carseat, and when she wakes up she is inexplicably somewhere new; we can reach the incomprehensible heights of the kitchen counters to find good things to eat and play with. We can do anything.
When her diaper is full, there is nothing she can do about it but cry. Eventually one of us will come and take care of the problem, and she will feel comfortable again.
When she falls down and bangs her knee, she can't understand why pain is throbbing in her body. She just wants it to stop. How unbelievable it must be when one of us, her parent gods, comes immediately to her side, rubs her knee, kisses and hugs her, and the pain goes away. How do we know? No matter what she could have done in that moment, the pain would have stayed for a lot longer of a time. We are her sources of sustenance, healing, protection, comfort, wisdom, direction, and teaching.
Eventually, she becomes more independent. She figures out how to open packages on her own. She grows in size and reaches new heights of exploration. She's already proficient at climbing and reaching locations.
She may argue and complain about the limits we put on this newfound independence. When we take her off of the stool, she may cry in her own primitive language "Dad! I wanted to be tall like you! I can handle it! I just want to reach new heights!" She cannot understand at this point in her life that with tall heights comes long falls, and that we are only trying to protect her by limiting her independence. Instead, we teach her smaller steps to reach her goals. She may strain to break through these boundaries, but we are in full control of her. And when she does sneakily do something she shouldn't, she receives due punishment.
"Why?!" she may cry. "Why won't you just leave me alone and let me run out into the world? Why do I have to sit in this horrible, tight carseat? You don't have to!" And yet she gratefully accepts our consolation, our feeding her favorite foods (How do we know which food she likes best?), our taking care of problems for her. It is incomprehensible how we seem to know what she needs, so she trusts us.

I believe that we are all literally children of God.
He created us; He placed us here; He set boundaries in the form of commandments; He gave us guidance in the form of scriptures and prophets; and He is the source of all sustenance, healing, protection, comfort, wisdom, direction, and teaching.
Our divine Father loves each of us as much as I love my daughter. He makes the crops grow so we have food. He crafted bodies with powerful immune systems for us, and created herbs and medicines to help them heal. He is more vast and wise and powerful than we can possible imagine, and for this we trust him.
And yet, why do so many of us stray from this trust? What makes us change our childlike view of our Father? Sure, as humans we try to become more independent. God wants us to be. He wants us to solve as much as we can, to learn from our mistakes, to get up when we fall down; to invent, to construct, to manufacture, to help and heal each other, and to grow. But it seems that many people reach a point where they no longer think they need a Father, or to even believe in one anymore.
Imagine if my daughter reached a point like this. Imagine if, during her development in which I am so excited for her to grow and reach new heights that I have reached so she can enjoy them too, she thinks she's had enough of me. Imagine if she thought "I can open packages on my own. I can reach countertops now. I'm done with you guys," and runs away from home.
This would simply not happen. A child would not forget the love her parents showed to her in the past. She would not forget that we are in the position of power and know infinitely more than she can comprehend at that time.
So why do we? Why is it that God's influence seems to have an end with us? Why do we sell ourselves short by saying we have "enough" of God's knowledge to strike off on our own?
God is our Father. He has gone through what we have gone through. He knows the best way, as I know the best for my little daughter. 
I think that the reason humanity has so many problems today is the simple fact that we forget to treat God like the Father he is. Imagine if we treated everyone like our own siblings. Imagine if we trusted in the Lord even though we have no idea what He has in mind. As children cannot see the beginning from the end, neither can we, in the eternal scheme of things. It is selfish and downright stupid of us to think we know more. Haven't we had our whole childhood to learn that? Do we hold grudges for decades about being grounded when we were kids? Of course not. Eventually we learn why we were punished, and we will do the same to our own children to teach them.
Besides being our Father, God is the Creator, the great Architect of the universe. Not only does He teach us and inspire us, but He created it all. He is the Lord of all science, creation, substance, matter, and energy. He knows what subatomic particles are made of. He knows the dimensions of the infinite universe. He knows everything and he can do anything.
We understood this as children—this wonder we could not comprehend—and we were okay with it. Why are we not okay with it now? Why do we eventually want to be parents ourselves while we are still infants? Just because we don't understand, we regard it as falsehood. Is there a more arrogant thought imaginable?
I firmly believe that, just as I grew up to be a father, and my daughter will grow up to be a mother, we will someday grow up to be gods, just as our Father is. Transcendence and apotheosis are our destinies. It is logical, it is the wisest of all plans, and it is the greatest joy I could ever look forward to.

Jan 6, 2014

The Creation of the World poem

I've been working on this for a while. With my exposure to Anglo-Saxon poetry, I decided to follow their patterns of alliteration to make my own. This is now an official canonical piece of Argaenothruzilian lore on my forum. For the original story I based this on, see this post.

1  Before Argae existed, anarchy ruled substance.
    Matter flowed wistfully, writhing watery through the void.
    Chaos reigned over all, except the Intelligences.
    Nine were they, cosmic balance they knew
5  and control they possessed, if only partially.
    Working together, they wrought forth order
    there were Nine who brought newness to nothingness;
    many were of lesser rank, but most were minor in comparison
    to the Nine, who were human in appearance; however,
10 no races existed yet, neither world nor life
    the time of creation arrived, comrades met to craft
    heirs to their lineage, lesser beings.
    First they organized the elements, all of them
    five: Fire, formed into the sun
15 and into cracks in the cold core, merged
    with Earth. Under foot, and over head
    the moon also, made of earthen matter.
    Water was wrapped round the world
    in oceans and open seas, also
20 Used to encase comets and cold ice.
    The Intelligences had no use for Air,
    but that their blood-children could breathe,
    shrouded the sphere of creation with sweet air
    and clouds. Quintessence, the fifth core element
25 blood of the gods, grafted to heaven in dots glimmering above
    sprinkled in the sky. So thus
    having a home-orb to place heirs,
    they assembled sentient races, species
    according to the elements the Intelligences’
30 affinity. The foremost, Vendictes, formed
    healthy humans, from dust handcrafted,
    resilient race, strong and respected,
    assembled by brave Bezzoan, bronze-hearted one,
    and Time-father, virtuous Vendictes.
35 And of these many maids were married
    to angels above, iridescent seraphauns,
    golden-eyed god-children, with glowing auras.
    Then the parent of peace, Phroella,
    formed elves of the forest, fair-eared,
40 bow-wielding wood-folk, wheat-haired ones.
    Then the wind-weaver, wisest of the circle,
    Henaeros cloud-crafter, came forth
    to beget genies and gnomes, great in mind,
    wise in magic and medicine made he them.
45 Ezrim, god of justice, generated governments
    law and legislature he brought about, loyalty
    to kings kindled in man’s hearts.
    And [civil elves]* as well, city-walkers, shunned
    from the forests of their kinfolk.
50 Moeki, the man of many tricks
    god of greed set gold-seekers in the earth.
    Deep beneath the dirt, the dwarves
    tunneling out over the tides of time.
    Then fiery Rauroth, revenge-seeker,
55 sowed seeds of scarlet night in the Vendictes-children
    and brought forth blood-eyed gogs, born
    from damsels and demons from the dungeon.
    Khlamul, lord of comets, created
    jinn, genies of glass and * * *
60 * * *
    * * * [corru]pter, D’nethrokash, decay-bringer,
    formed with his fingers the lava-fissures,
    and drew forth dark-skinned orcs of the deep,
    shivering in sable caverns of stone.
65 When the work of the wise ones was done,
    an argument arose from some in their elevated ranks:
    ‘What purpose should they prove themselves, our progeny
    who sit beneath this celestial ceiling?’
    Some willed that their sons should please self,
70 three of the intelligences, for individuality and industry;
    others argued selflessness, and service to brothers
    so friendship and family could remain ever forged bright.
    The third group, three gods as well, thought
    that moderation betwixt these motives should be maintained.
75 Then were arguments heard among the Intelligences:
    ‘Was the world smithed from one element?
    Shall our sons be single-eyed as the beasts?
    Nine are we, and new this world is,
    thus must balance be maintained, and minds directed
80 to pursuits of personal worth, choice preserved!’
    Six of the saintly ones agreed to this sole view,
    but the Other Three were offended, and angered.
    The devils demanded that their view be determined,
    that man, elf, and dwarf should maintain oneness in mind;
85 that singularity be shunned as a sin,
    and uniqueness undermined utterly.
    These three were then forsaken,
    cast away from the council of the cosmos,
    and left to their own livid designs alone.
90 On the planet that the pure ones had praised
    were two continents, created with wisdom and craftsmanship:
    God’s Crown, wrought in the windy west,
    green and touched by godly ones, where life grew
    and where blood-children and beasts danced, benevolent island.
95 And Noble Diamond, with its deep pits of dazzling gold,
    and fields of flowers and grain, flowing like amber.
    This latter the sulfurous devils seized,
    sowing ash and soot in the veins of land and sea.
    For hard were the holy armies’ swords and helms,
100 who watched over the western shores and mountains.
    And yet blind were their eyes, underestimating the evil
    of the Other Three, there whose thirty thousand demons
    lurked under the Noble Diamond’s lush fields and lands.
    In time the blight escaped, bursting as brimstone from fissures
105 in the eastern earth; Ash filled the air,
    races went extinct. Others evolved and were corrupted
    as a wilting flower has its life wrested from it by weeds.
    The gods sent sixty thousand angels to contain the sickness,
    but the influence of the evil ones was irreversible.
110 Noble Diamond was tarnished forever, and the terrible tendrils
    thirsted outwardly through the seas like a thunderous wave.
    Hastily the cloud-god Henaeros harnessed the air
    and wove a wind-ring that he wound round the planet.
    And those swirling storms stopped that evil plague
115 of chaos and evil from coming to God’s Crown.
    Thus was the evil ones’ influence halted;
    but the devils’ destruction had dominated
    half the holy world the intelligences had created
    and the power of the planet-makers was limited
120 so that but a mite of mercy could extend to men there.
    And the orcs ravaged the ridges of sulfurous lava-rock,
    driven furious into frenzy by the Other Three’s focus.
    And the intelligent planet-parents wept to see sons perish,
    and adapt alone on the ground swept with ash.
125 No longer was it named Noble Diamond,
    but Black Possession, for the blight had burned
    it from the inside to the shores around.
    The Sacrum of the seraphaun-fathers was all but spent,
    and for this are needed feverous fathers of priesthood
130 and crusaders courageous and full of calm devotion.
    But may the glory of the Gods shine and gleam
    upon anyone who deems it right to adore Deity and not Devil.

* This word was missing from the original manuscript, and added by the gnomish linguist-historian Tem Delvo in c. 2g722. Some scholars question the validity of this choice, given that the manuscript only mentions wood-elves and not any of their other separate species (some believe elves who use magic to be a separate species—"magic elves"—because of their differing abilities). Some even believe that a “lost” race, now extinct, was once mentioned here.
† This section of the poem was missing when found, and has never been recovered. As such, less is known about Khlamul than the other gods.
 Traditional legends claim that each god and devil has ten thousand angels (or demons) at his or her command. See also line 102.