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Dec 13, 2019

Warcraft Techno (The German Mixes)



I like techno a lot, but I really liked it back in 2007 when I first started college. Somewhere around that time, I found this song by "Mr. Tom & Got Show," whom I can't find much information about anywhere online. Since I've been playing Warcraft 2 lately, I was reminded of this song and now it's finally published for public consumption!

At the time, I thought that it was independently created and voiced to mimic the voice lines on Warcraft 2 in German (There's a line from the ogre, "Er wars! Nein, er wars," that sounds like "You da boss" from the troll), but now that it's 12 years later and I found a very thorough translator to take a listen to it (thanks a lot YouTuber Watthe), it turns out that all the lines are taken straight from the German dub of the game, and that there are some interesting facts about them. Below are some of my favorites.
  1. The German version says "manchmal kann man noch das Heulen ihrer gequälten Seelen mit den Windpfeifen hören," which in English is simply "the howling of their tortured souls fill the air," but this literally translates to "one can hear the howling of their tortured souls through windpipes."
  2. The German line "Solltest du verlieren, ist das dein Ende. Ahh ha ha ha haa haa!" is the last line of the final orc campaign mission in Beyond the Dark Portal. The laugh was added in by the German voice actor and is not in the English version, which says "Fail or be slaughtered" instead of "Should you fail, that is your end."
  3. Some of the units have different lines in German; for example, the knight says "So geht das nicht weiter," which means "You can't keep doing this / This has to stop." And one of the orc units says "You look like a human!" These are all "annoyed" quotes when you click on a unit multiple times.
  4. Some lines are erroneously literally transcribed into German. The knight says "Ich brauche Order," which means "I need orders," but the German word for "orders" should be "Befehle."
  5. In English, the briefing says "Destroy the renegade clans and bring back the head of Gul'dan," but the German version says "bestrafe Gul'dan," which means "punish Gul'dan."

Dec 6, 2019

10 D&D Monster Templates

I've found that one of the best ways to breathe new life into the creativity of homebrew monster encounters in Dungeons & Dragons is through templates. Who could be more unique than encountering a fairy lich, a pack of zombie dogs, a half-dragon half-ogre, or a dire snail? I did some research and compared and compiled some stuff in the monster manual, and have for you some templates you can give to any monster. In order to apply one of these templates, simply change anything explained in the bullet points. Everything else (except the appearance of the monster, which is up to you to make unique!) remains the same.

Dire

  • +1 size category (and +1 Hit Die size)
  • +5 Strength, +3 Constitution, +1 Charisma
  • +1 damage die size

Half-dragon

  • 10 feet of blindsight, +60 feet of darkvision
  • Resistance to acid, lightning, fire, poison, or cold, depending on the draconic parent
  • Knows and speaks Draconic
  • Action: Breath Weapon. The half-dragon has the breath weapon of its dragon half. Generally, it has a wyrmling breath attack, but Huge half-dragons have as a young dragon’s and Gargantuan half-dragons have as an adult dragon's

Ghostly

  • Undead type
  • Walking speed of 0 feet, flying (hover) speed of 40 feet
  • Resistance to acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder; and bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks
  • Immunity to necrotic damage and poison
  • Immune to being charmed, exhausted, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, and restrained.
  • Incorporeal Movement. The ghost can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. It takes 1d10 force damage if it ends its turn inside and object.
  • Undead Nature. Doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep

Golem

  • Constitution 20 (+5), Intelligence 3 (-4), Charisma 1 (-5)
  • Unaligned
  • Immune to poison and psychic damage, nonmagical attacks that aren’t adamantine
  • Immune to charming, exhaustion, fright, paralysis, petrification, and poison
  • 60 feet of darkvision
  • Armor Class equal to material hardness (14 clay, 17 stone, 20 iron, etc.)
  • Immutable Form. Immune to spells or effects that alter its form.
  • Magic Resistance. Advantage on saving throws against magic
  • Magic Weapons. Magical weapon attacks.
  • Constructed Nature. A golem doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.

Lycanthrope

  • Shapechanger tag
  • Immunity to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical, unsilvered weapons
  • Werebear
    • Strength 19(+4)
    • Neutral good alignment
    • +1 AC (natural armor)
    • Keen Smell.  The lycanthrope has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
  • Wereboar
    • Strength 17(+3)
    • Neutral evil alignment
    • +1 AC (natural armor)
    • Charge. If the wereboar moves at least 15 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with its tusks on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) slashing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 13 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.
  • Wererat
    • Dexterity 15(+2)
    • Lawful evil alignment
    • Keen Smell.  The lycanthrope has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
  • Weretiger
    • Strength 17(+3)
    • Neutral alignment
    • Keen Hearing and Smell.  The lycanthrope has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.
    • Pounce. If the weretiger moves at least 15 feet straight toward a creature and then hits it with a claw attack on the same turn, that target must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, the weretiger can make one bite attack against it as a bonus action.
  • Werewolf
    • Strength 15(+2)
    • Chaotic evil alignment
    • +1 AC (natural armor)
    • Keen Hearing and Smell.  The lycanthrope has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

Spore Servant

  • Plant type
  • Unaligned
  • Intelligence 2(-4), Wisdom 6(-2), and Charisma 1(-5)
  • Speed reduced by 10 feet (minimum 5)
  • 30 feet of blindsight (blind beyond this radius)
  • Immune to blinding, charming, fear, and paralysis
  • Loses saving throw and skill bonuses, special senses, special traits, languages, all actions except weapon attacks.

Skeletal

  • Undead type
  • Lawful evil alignment
  • Charisma 5(-3), Intelligence 6(-2), and Wisdom 8(-1)
  • Vulnerability to bludgeoning damage
  • Immunity to poison and exhaustion
  • 60 feet of darkvision
  • Understands all languages it knew in life but can’t speak
  • Undead Nature. Doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep

Wooden

  • Plant type
  • Vulnerability to fire damage
  • Resistance to bludgeoning and piercing damage
  • AC 16 (natural armor)

Vampire

  • Lawful evil alignment
  • Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity 18(+4)
  • 120 feet of darkvision
  • Resistance to necrotic damage; and bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks.
  • All vampire traits and actions (See the Monster Manual)

Zombie

  • Undead
  • Neutral evil alignment
  • Charisma 5(-3), Dexterity 6(-2), Intelligence 3(-2), Wisdom 6(-2)
  • +2 Constitution
  • -10 feet movement speed
  • Immunity to poison
  • 60 feet of darkvision
  • Understands all languages it knew in life but can’t speak
  • Proficient in Wisdom saving throws
  • Undead Nature. Doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep
  • Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

Nov 19, 2019

The Scourge of Lordaeron Adventure, Chapter 1

I've long wanted to play a D&D campaign that takes place in the world of Azeroth. The Warcraft Roleplaying Game was what got me into 3rd edition D&D in the first place, and my first time ever playing D&D 5th edition was running an adventure that took place in Azeroth. In my spare time, I've compiled a starter adventure taken directly from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

I'm not sure how sustainable and not-railroady this adventure could be in the entire campaign, since the campaign itself revolves around Arthas and his choices, and not his soldiers' (and therefore the adventurers), but I think it could still be a fun way to introduce a D&D group into Azeroth, possibly for an alternate reality where they could influence the story of the Burning Legion's arrival in different ways.

At any rate, I've saved a PDF of the first adventure, The Defense of Strahnbrad, and it's available for you to download. Feedback is appreciated! I myself haven't run the adventure, and I know it's kind of stiff, but I was still pretty impressed at how easy it was to translate that first level to a D&D adventure. Maybe that's mainly because it doesn't involve any base building or resource management, but I guess if I finish the campaign with other adventures we'll see about that.

>> The Scourge of Lordaeron, Chapter 1


Nov 18, 2019

The Big Rock Candy Mountain: My Edition

I recently watched the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and was reminded of how nice the song "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" is. It's fun to see the idea of paradise from the perspective of a 1920s hobo, who valued not getting caught by law enforcement, easy food and cigarettes, and other more universally paradisaical ideas, such as sunshine and lands that are "fair and bright." I decided it'd be fun to make my own version of this song based on what my idea of paradise would be.

My favorite rendition of "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" can be heard here, so listen to it while you read the lyrics:
_______________________________

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There's a land that's fair and bright,
Where pretzels grow on bushes
And you don't need to sleep at night.
Where the stores are always open
And restaurants cost a dime.
There's a huge buffet
You can stay all day
And drink chocolate mousse
And passion fruit juice
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
It's autumn all year round.
And everyone plays D&D
And jerky stores abound.
There are lots of Warcraft movies;
They release one every year.
Cars don't break down
Or run out of gas
And a chilly morning
Don't frost the glass
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
The Wi-Fi's never slow.
And all the stations play 90s hits
And soundtracks and techno.
You can travel by roller coaster
To anywhere that you want.
To the playground swings
Where the chickadee sings
Or the mountain lake
Where they serve you steak
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
The dishes wash themselves.
And gamebooks, cards, and board games
Are stacked on all the shelves.
The nights are never noisy
And the streets are always safe
No one ever wastes food
And the cashiers aren't rude
And they boot the fools
Who break the rules
From the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The houses have castle walls.
And they've all got moats like swimming pools
With torches down the halls.
All the girls have Irish accents
And the men all speak like Scots
Oh I'd like to go home
Where there ain't smartphones
Where they hung the snorts
That invented sports
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Oct 10, 2019

Ways to Switch Up D&D Monsters

I've been having a blast reading Descent into Avernus, the first real D&D 5e book that I honest-to-goodness bought not just for access to new game mechanics, but to have as an actual adventure module to run. One thing I admire about Wizards of the Coast's published adventures is their ability to breathe life into combat so that it always feels new. They always seem to give great variety to the types of monsters you encounter in an adventure; for example, you don't just see devil after devil when you go to the Nine Hells; you also see a gang of wereboars, a night hag with a crew of fey redcaps and a pet flesh golem, and a chariot pulled by gorgons.

Even with the devils they do put into this adventure, they use simple twists to make each one seem unique from the standard picture shown in the Monster Manual. Below is a list I've compiled showing some techniques and twists you can put on monsters (along with examples) so that players who are already familiar with all the monsters in the game can encounter new challenges, and finding yet another group of orcs won't ever get burdensome.

And because this is D&D, I've made each table one you can roll on if you need an idea in a pinch.

Monster Variations

d20 Variation
1 Gender swap (female planetar, male medusa, manticore mother with cubs, female ogre)
2 Injury (missing a limb, disfiguring scar, limp, eye patch)
3 Mutation (ettercap with extra arms, two-headed hippogriff, scaly mind flayer)
4 Alignment change (brain injury or augmentation, outlier among others, repentant, friendly)
5 Individualist (pacifist, shy, cowardly, other agenda, jealous of allies)
6 Template (skeletal roc, half-dragon ogre, zombie rats, golem horse)
7 Noncombatant (troll children, elderly bugbears, lame or sick hobgoblins)
8 Weapon swap (goblins with pikes, death knight with bow, ghouls with slings)
9 Character levels (orc with sneak attack, wyvern with second wind, kobold with rage) 
10 Mounted (cloud giant on a roc, skeletons on skeletal warhorses, pixies on faerie dragons)
11 Paragon (multiple enemies mashed into one) (medusa hydra, animated armor-wearing jackalwere)
12 Progressive (flying basilisk that loses its wings when reduced to half hit points, bulette whose armor sloughs off over time, berserk trolls)
13 Damage swap (flying hammers, ice imp, radiant wraith, poison gas elemental)
14 Spell swap (archmage-archpriest, apprentice cleric, lizardfolk shaman-warlock)
15 Armor swap (goblins in full plate armor, armored wyverns, blackguard in black studded leather armor)
16 Reskinned (kuo-toa murlocs, red dragon phoenix, flying books (bats))
17 Magic item equipped (ogre with headband of intellect, beholder with ring on eye stalk, gnolls that drink potions of healing)
18 Age/size change (sphinx cub, ancient ankheg, beetle-sized gelatinous cubes, gigantic intelect devourer)
19 Legendary (legendary actions, resistance, powerful reactions)
20  Ability score swap (intelligent ettin, sickly giant, fast treant)

Enemy Group Variations

d12 Variation
1 A large number of "fodder" enemies. Same stats except only 1 hit point
2 Enemies that ambush the PCs
3 Enemies that set a cunning trap for the PCs
4 A second wave of enemies after the first (reinforcements)
5 Two separate factions of enemies in one battle (different colors)
6 Enemies who are out of reach and attacking with ranged weapons
7 Enemies disguised as other enemies
8 Illusory enemies set up by the real ones
9 Enemies who retreat or surrender immediately
10 Enemies led by a boss (boss has maximized hit points)
11 Enemies with visible leverage (hostages, destructible treasure, a lit torch in a wooden house, support columns underground)
12 Enemies arguing with each other who automatically fail Perception checks for the sneaking PCs

Oct 1, 2019

My List of Rituals

I love rituals. I think it's important to celebrate holidays and hold formal traditions, so as to have things to look forward to and add stability and gratitude to yearly life. Being as today is the first of October when I begin my yearly ritual of eating a bag of candy corn and a bag of creme pumpkins by as quickly as I wish, I decided to make a list of the rituals and traditions I enjoy from year to year. I'm sure as time goes by I'll come back here and update it as I remember more and make more to fill it in. As you'll notice, a lot of it has to do with food, as well as rituals to commemorate events that happened on that day years before.

January

1 - New Years Reflection. My family and I fill out forms thinking about what the new year will bring, with everything from goals to predictions. We also look back at the previous year, reflecting on friends we made, good and bad events, and favorite books and movies we experienced.

February

Project Month. Since it's the dreary, boring time of year, I often use February (and sometimes November) as a time to hold a month-long "project" for myself, often with a formal, alliterative name. There's something about sticking to a habit or practice for one entire month that can teach you a lot about yourself. I've detailed pretty much all my month-long projects right here on Pretzel Lectern:
1 - Hourly Comic Day. I've really enjoyed getting back to my comic drawing days participating in the Hourly Comic Day along with other comic artists each year. It's a fun way to seek out and find funny things (or simply punchline-worthy things) in day-to-day life and realize there are a lot more than you might think.

2 - Groundhog Day. What better way to celebrate Groundhog Day than to watch Groundhog Day, one of my favorite movies ever? Given the segmented structure of the movie, sometimes I come up with a sort of "drinking game" (except I don't drink) based on every time Phil Connors wakes up in a new day.

14 - Valentine's Day. My wife and I trade homemade gifts on Valentine's Day, but we never go on a date that night. To avoid the crowds of people who save their date for the actual day, we go out a few days before or after, usually on a Wednesday or Thursday night. Valentine's Day is about being together with your significant other, not waiting in line and being around a ton of other people and their significant others.

Dark Chocolate Kisses. My favorite kind of Hershey's Kiss is dark chocolate truffle, and they only offer them around Valentine's Day. It's been a couple of years since I've remembered to buy a bag around that time, so I'm really looking forward to the next chance I get!

Tax Return. I remember when I used to get my family's tax return for the year, we'd make some fun purchase for the house like an electronic keyboard or something, but now it all just goes toward debt. Still, we enjoy the tradition of going as a family to a buffet like Chuck-A-Rama or Golden Corral.

March

Easter - My favorite Easter ritual is eating a bag of those delicious malt robin eggs. 

April

8 - My Birthday. Birthdays for me are meh. My last truly great or even memorable birthday was probably when I turned 16 or 17. With each year blending into the following one and with age not really mattering anymore except every new decade, my birthday is never really any more special than any other day. Which I guess is a good thing—I'd rather have one normal day if the norm was great than have a dull life with only one day to look forward to each year. Still, my wife (who loves birthdays) does her best to make it a special day, which I'm grateful for. Maybe I need to try harder and come up with an exciting ritual for it, like making an extravagantly detailed cake.

May

6 - Dia da Bahia. I returned from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bahia, Brazil, on May 6th, 2010, and I try to remember each year to celebrate by making Brazilian food. Since I make Brazilian food like feijoada, estroganofe de frango, and pão de queijo throughout the year already, I've been forgetting to celebrate this as religiously as I should. Maybe I should focus on making a more extravagant Brazilian dish, such as lasanha so that it's more special.

June

10 - Warcraft. One of the most fun days of my life was June 10, 2016, when the film Warcraft was released in theaters. All day long, my brother and I (lifelong fans of Warcraft, especially the first few games) listened to music from the soundtracks of Warcraft I: Orcs & Humans all the way to World of Warcraft, and that night we saw the premiere, complete with popcorn, candy, and soda (something I never splurge on), and I went on to watch the film two more times in theaters (unprecedented as well). I haven't been super diligent at this, but I really enjoy watching Warcraft once a year, so this is a good day to commemorate that memorable day.

22 - Yearly Journal Day. I started my first consistent journal when I was about 12, and after I ended the journal early to begin a new one, I decided to keep the old one's pages blank and write one new entry each year thereafter on that day. It's been fun to reflect on the primary milestones and key events throughout an entire year rather than "the past week" or whatever, and it's fun to see me change as a person from entry to entry, since the time between each entry is so much bigger than any of my other journal entries.

24 - Festa Junina de São João. My favorite Brazilian tradition is the Festa do São João, which is held toward the end of June. I'm trying more each year to give this tradition the attention it deserves in my family by making corn dishes, listening to forró music, and just generally embracing the Brazilian spirit of generosity and fun.

July

4 - Independence Day. I'm starting to get disillusioned with current traditions of Independence Day, with people saving spots for sitting at the morning parade two days early, so I'm looking to find a new tradition for this holiday. However, I do enjoy watching A More Perfect Union around this time, and cooking a lasagna.

24 - Pioneer Thanksgiving. This is one of my favorite rituals of the entire year. Pioneer Day is a holiday only celebrated in Utah and parts of Idaho. It's around this time of year that I start craving Thanksgiving food, especially turkey, and I realized one year that pioneers are just like pilgrims—it was the perfect excuse to feast and not have to wait six months till the end of the year holidays! We always invite someone new, whether a friend or neighbor family, over for all of the classic Thanksgiving foods, from turkey to mashed potatoes to yams to pies.

August

Renaissance Faire. I don't know if this will become a tradition, but I really enjoyed going to the Renaissance Faire this year, and I prepared for it by watching my favorite film, A Knight's Tale. Even if I don't go to the faire itself, I definitely enjoy watching it once a year.

September

October

1 - Candy Corn Binge. When October hits, I'm craving candy corn like crazy. I can't understand why people don't like that buttery, honeyed flavor! I purchase two bags—one of creme pumpkins and one of normal candy corn—and eat them without restraints. They pair especially good with pretzels.

Autumn. My favorite season of all has many traditions. I thoroughly enjoy watching Over the Garden Wall all the way through, which fits really well with the autumn colors and cool weather. My favorite episode is "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee."

26 - My Wife's Birthday. Since my wife's love language is gifts and I have no skill with getting them, this day, Christmas, and Valentine's Day are some of the most stressful days of the year. Especially with how much she loves birthdays. Luckily, since she's discovered REFIT, she spends her birthday at RECON, so I can give her a gift I do know how to give, that of taking care of the kids for a few days so she can go be with her loud, athletic female support group, so we're both happy. 

Halloween - I'm not sure why, but I've really grown in my love for the Halloween season over the past few years. I love music like "Grim Grinning Ghosts" and "This Is Halloween." I love to watch Room 1408, The Skeleton Key, and Hocus Pocus while sculpting pumpkins and saving their seeds to cook later. I also never go an October without reading "Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman.

November

Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving comes with all of the usual classic Thanksgiving foods, and I generally celebrate it with the Ballard side of the family. We spend all morning cooking, snacking on Muddy Buddies or Coconut Chex Mix while we do, and eat in the early afternoon. My love of food makes this one of my very favorite holidays. Afterward, we leave out most of the food for grazing, and digest as we watch movies or do puzzles. When we have enough room in our bellies for dessert, we eat my favorite dessert, pie.

Decorating the Tree. The day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Christmas season for my family. We start listening to Christmas music, and that night, we decorate the Christmas tree! Our tradition is to eat chips and dip, vegetables, crackers and cheese, and pickles while we decorate it, all while listening to carols. Years ago, when we were filming us decorating the tree, I picked up a pickle and made it sing along with the Christmas song that was playing. The "Singing Pickle" became a tradition, and all types of pickles, from hamburger chips to spears to whole pickles, have played the part over the years, before being eaten. After the Christmas tree is decorated (Dad puts on the lights, Mom puts on the tinsel, we put on everything else), we listen to the Alabama Christmas album, the couples dance to "When My Heart Finds Christmas," and we dance the bunny hop to "Thistlehair the Christmas Bear."

December

21 - Anniversary. My wife and I have celebrated our anniversary in a variety of ways over the past 9 years (as of this blog post) of our marriage. One year we went back to our honeymoon restaurant (it had gone out of business), and last year we went to the nice restaurant The Roof in Salt Lake City. We want to go on a cruise next year, so hopefully that will happen. Regardless of where we go to commemorate the event, we always like to watch the film The Princess Bride, since it brought us together, is our favorite movie, and since I share Robin Wright's birthday and she shares Carey Elwes's.

24 - Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the whole year—The Christmas spirit and excitement is climaxing but not yet over and the Christmas tree is surrounded by walls of mysterious presents. We eat eggnog French toast for breakfast and spend the day putting together puzzles, watching Christmas videos, and making last-minute touches on presents. When evening comes, the real fun begins. We eat hors d'ouevres for dinner: Li'l Smokies, shrimp, crackers and easy cheese, rainbow jello, ham and salsa tortilla rolls, and sometimes an artichoke dip bread braid. Afterward, we have a talent show showcasing things we've learned throughout the year, and exchange homemade gifts. Then comes the Barefoot Boys' Run, when all the boys run a barefoot lap around the snow-covered yard. My parents usually give us matching T-shirts (generally from my Dad's mowing company) and the kids pajamas, then we eat ice cream cake roll and watch a Garfield Christmas. Then, after the kids set out a snack for Santa and his reindeer, we all go to sleep together in the basement. It's still hard sometimes for me to fall asleep in anticipation.

25 - Christmas Day. We wake up around 6:00, and sit at the bottom of the stairs singing carols until Mom and Dad come to get us and the kids. Then we go into their bedroom and have a morning prayer around their bed. Then, we go in to see the presents from youngest to oldest. We open presents all morning, taking turns so we can savor it as much as possible. For breakfast, we have fresh homemade cinnamon rolls, cereal, and all-you-can-eat pork sausages. After the presents are all open, we play with our games that we got, and have a feast of a lunch that varies from ham or turkey to London broil, prime rib, or Cornish hens.

31 - New Years Eve. It isn't New Years Eve for me unless we have all-I-can-eat buffalo wings from WinCo. In the past we've also eaten homemade fries, mock champagne, and other delicious junk food while playing quasi-roleplaying games like Munchkin and Lords of Waterdeep. The countdown itself is usually pretty anticlimactic, but it's a fun evening nonetheless.

Others

Alone at home. Whenever my wife and kids go out of town for more than a few days, it's a time for me to work on projects I'm behind on, play PC games till I get too tired to, watch Shaolin Soccer or Disney's Robin Hood in Portuguese, and eat an entire rotisserie chicken by myself (not all at once, and of course along with homemade mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and an ice cream sundae). It's always fun to be a bachelor for a day or two, but I definitely feel the loneliness kick in after that has worn off.

Calvin & Hobbes. Every odd-numbered year, usually in the summertime, I take out my box of Calvin & Hobbes books and read them in chronological order all the way through. This is such a fun tradition and always brings so much warmth and happiness to my life. Reading Calvin & Hobbes is like taking a step back in time to summer vacation as a kid for a few hours, and I'm always amazed at which cartoons stand out to me from year to year as I get older. There's always at least three or four cartoons that make me laugh out loud. Bless you, Bill Watterson, wherever you are.

Sep 26, 2019

Farewell, Vermilius


This week I said goodbye to one of my closest friends, Vermilius. He's been a part of my life for nearly six and a half years, and now he's off living a new life, for however much time he has left. He was getting really slow towards the end of our time together, and to ease the pain of separation, I wiped his memories so he had less to miss.

I first got Vermilius (so named because of the red color his keys glowed) in 2013, after much researching on gaming laptops. Vermilius was top-of-the-line in his day. He had not one, but two graphics cards, one of them replacing a CD ROM drive. He was always an innovative guy, urging me to move past CDs into using digital downloads for games instead. As long as he was plugged in, he could run Orcs Must Die, Heroes of the Storm, and lots of other games at a great resolution and graphics quality, especially compared to my previous computer, Lappy.

I played dozens of hours of games on Vermilius, in many different locales across Utah, Idaho, and even Texas on one occasion. My original Warcraft III Easter Eggs series was fully created on Vermilius, and in a way I owe my claim to fame to him.

Last year, Vermilius got a bit jealous of Macky, my MacBook Pro I got in my coding course, but this was mainly because Macky largely replaced Vermilius as a portable computer. Macky is lighter and has a much smoother track pad than Vermilius did (that was definitely one of his faults, as was his tendency to groan when thinking too hard), and though Macky can't play many games, it was definitely more convenient to bring her along for casual use than lug heavy Vermilius in his broken computer bag.

Ironically, it was Vermilius's success in making me an amateur Youtuber that ultimately led to his retirement. With the money I earned from my first AdSense paycheck, I finally was able to purchase a solid desktop PC, whom I named Bulwark. With Macky taking over the family travel business and Bulwark having much more powerful graphics, even being able to be cranked up to Ultra without so much as a bit of lag, it was only a matter of time before Vermilius was put into storage, sleeping for months at a time and only coming out very seldom to be utilized as an outlet for an HDMI movie-viewing experience on Netflix or Amazon Prime. At last, however, his slow, elderly speed and his annoying groan became too much. An HDMI adapter hub was ordered for Macky, and venerable Vermilius was put to sleep, then awakened without his memories (again, to ease the pain), and sent off to a new home.

Hopefully his new owner will find a use for him before he kicks the bucket altogether. Though I only got $70 in return for selling Vermilius and I purchased him for $899.99, I think overall the six years I spent with him was absolutely worth it.

I hereby raise this strawberry shake from Chick Fil'A in your honor, Vermilius. To a life well-lived, to many hours of gaming, and to moving forward from school days in constant need of a laptop to a more settled life at a desk. Adeus.

Sep 22, 2019

A Weekend at the Utah Renaissance Faire


The other weekend I had the chance to go to Utah's Renaissance Faire! I'm not sure why I've never made the effort to go to a Renaissance faire before now. I guess I assumed it was more focused on the actual Renaissance than the dark ages and more "interesting" aspects of the Middle Ages. Regardless, last night when I found the Utah faire's website, I immediately resolved to buy a VIP ticket for the Queen's Feast the moment they were available and save enough money to where I could get anything I wanted, including food and drink on a whim—something I've never been able to enjoy before. In short, I wanted to treat myself and release my inner child. I absolutely love medieval stuff in any form, and this was finally my chance to experience something like this for myself.

The faire itself was fun for the most part. I loved to see the jousting tournament, magicians, performers, minstrels, and all kinds of stations selling various medieval crafts. I ate a big, hot turkey leg for lunch, along with some homemade root beer in a novelty glass bottle; and I finally was able to wear my knight costume I got for Christmas last year, as well as outfit it with a pretty solid quality sword and shield. Now I can finally actually participate on Halloween.
Me posing with Frostylocks, who is apparently a
Renaissance faire legend. I didn't know that at the time.

I brought $200 to blow on whatever tickled my fancy at the faire, and I resolved to indeed spend all of it. I thought that was a lot of money to bring, but it still ran out pretty fast. It was a reminder of why my parents never bought us soft drinks at restaurants or let us go to gift shops at museums as kids. It's just not worth it to spend on anything, unless you're really treating yourself. Or you're rich. I ended up buying an Ansuz rune () pendant, some teal D&D dice, a foam sword and shield and a baldric, a bottle of homebrewed root beer, a turkey leg, some kettle corn, a pretty flower ribbon headdress for my wife, a funnel cake, and my favorite item and best purchase, a high-quality drinking tankard. Despite my reservations at spending so much, the only thing that I really considered a waste of money at the end of the day was $5 on a cup of "butterbrew," a lame attempt at mimicking Harry Potter's butterbeer that just tasted like creme soda with a little butterscotch grenadine and some cream on top. It was also fun, for the first time in my life, to have money for tipping performers, especially my new favorite medieval band, Stary Olsa.
Though the entertainment was good quality and it was just fun to be around people dressed in medieval garb who I knew shared my interests, I think overall I'd give the faire a 3.5/5 score on how worth my money it was. I couldn't find all the attractions advertised on the website, such as flame breathers and scotch eggs, and some of the acts that were scheduled simply never occurred. There wasn't really anyone who you could ask for help—I really never knew who was in charge, despite the Queen of England herself being there. Also, I feel like it would have been easy for them to just up the "medieval" factor a little bit. There was a magician, but though he was dressed like a medieval guy (that's a requirement for all workers) he did modern magic tricks with references to modern pop culture while playing modern music. There was a feast, but it was just a buffet with modern foods like potatoes and brownies. I know it would have cost them more, but I would have paid more for a more authentic experience with servants serving us food on trenchers with foods like frumenty, suckling pig, mutton or venison, rabbit stew, pottage, mortrews, or haggis. There was a mime dressed up like a jester, but one of his acts was literally a parody of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. How much more amazing it would have been had they performed actual medieval acts to not break the immersion!
That's the type of experience I still feel lacking in my life after arriving home from the faire. I hope someday I can experience something more legitimate. I'd be willing to pay a great deal of money to have the slight immersion I felt at the faire—sometimes broken by the Queen saying "Dang it!" or people having to speak in microphones or play music through speakers—be fully realized. I think that was the other bummer I felt afterward: just that sort of melancholy feeling knowing that, despite how realistic all this sometimes felt, it was merely an echo of a culture and world long since dead, and heavily fantasized. I'll never be able to meet real medieval Europeans or feel what it would be like to be in a quieter world where people wore hoods and didn't look at smartphones in their spare time.

Still, I was grateful to go, and I'm sure I'll go again some year, if not every year. And until then, I'll be kicking myself every day for not getting my kids their own toy shields to play with!


Aug 20, 2019

Austin's Weekday Routine 2019

It was kind of fun to read my last article I did like this, so I thought it'd be a good idea to update it now that it's a little over two years later.

Austin's Weekday Routine

My life is a lot more chill now that I don't have an hourly wage job. My alarm goes off at 6:45 every morning, playing "Fishing" from the Runescape soundtrack. It's kind of a pain to press snooze or turn the alarm off, since my phone cord isn't very long and I have to hang it inside the pocket of my shorts or pants that hang next to my bed. I usually snooze at least once or twice and cuddle with my wife while we both wake up. After a couple of snoozes, when her alarm gets up, or when our early-rising children sound like they're getting into trouble or raiding the fridge and eating all the pickes, berries, and string cheese, we get up.

First things first, I go to the downstairs bathroom (which has a walk-in shower I like better than the tub one upstairs) for my morning bowel movement on the Squatty Potty. While doing my business, I look at the IMDB Born Today list on my phone and add to a list I made on IMDB (You know me—I like to document perfection).

After my legs fall asleep (I should probably not spend as much time as I currently do, but like I said, my schedule is much more chill), I weigh myself if I remember to, take a shower, then go upstairs and get dressed and take my two Buproprion for the day. I take three on Saturdays because for some reason I get a weird sort of boredom/depression if I'm at home for too long with too much free time, but two are fine if I'm going out of the house, working, etc.

I've been great with my diet over the past couple of years. I lost 40 pounds and then gained 5 back, so I usually hover around ~175 pounds. I still don't really like big breakfasts ever since I started the habit of just having an egg on toast and a very small bowl of cereal for breakfast-dessert, but I do like brunches, which I usually make on weekends. The kids are usually clamoring for food excessively by this point as well, so I get them some cereal and milk if it's not too late in the morning. After that, I brush my teeth, give my kids and wife hugs and kisses, and head out the door.

I always listen to podcasts on the way to work, generally D&D actual-play podcasts. The current one I'm listening to is called the Damage Guild, and it's okay, I guess... I finished listening to the all 115 chapters of the first season of Critical Role for the second time a few months ago, and after getting caught up with the Titans of All'Terra, I'm still trying to find one that I look forward to listening to each day. I think it's all about the DM's level of engagement. Anyway, it's only about a 12-minute drive to work, but lately it takes at least 15, sometimes 20, because of all the construction.

Work
When I get to work, I park my car in the most distant parking lot, four or five spots from the west side. Since I'm terrible at exercising, this along with walking up the four flights of stairs to my work floor instead of ever using the elevator is my attempt at getting some in without much effort, and I think it's healthy for me. The first thing I do when I get to my desk is fill my water bottle. I'm not sure what happened to my bigger one, but for now I have one from the place I got my coding certification at, MTECH. Then, I log into my account, read the daily Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic, check my email, and review my work tickets for the day.

Our team works in a Scrum framework, so my work process is generally predictable and linear each day. If I don't have a ticket, I find one on our Scrum board, assign it to myself, read it over, and create a branch for it to work on. I spend time programming it, making any automation tests needed, and when I'm ready, I put the branch online for peer review. After two of my fellow teammates have reviewed and approved it, it gets merged and published, and the process starts over again. If they find mistakes, I fix those and continue the review process. I usually have one branch I'm working on and one in peer review at any given time.

At 11:00 every day, we have our "Stand Up" meeting. Our whiteboard of ticket progress is wheeled into one of the conference rooms, we connect via Microsoft Teams to anyone working remotely, and then explain what's on our work docket for the day. I like how it keeps everyone accountable, but sometimes there's simply not much to do, so I work on my yearly company goals.

I tend to work really fast and take lots of breaks. It's kind of a weird system of productivity, but for me it works. I'll program for 10–20 minutes, then take a 20-minute break to make notes for my D&D campaigns or read an article on The Monsters Know What They're Doing, or one of the other many D&D blogs I have marked in my favorites. Then it's back to work, maybe a break to transcribe a page or two of the Book of Mormon, which is a new scripture study method I discovered this year that works well for me, work on a Google Docs project, and so on. Work is almost too relaxing for me, which makes me wonder if I have superhuman speed at getting things done or if my team just needs to assign more tickets each sprint.

Every three weeks, our work sprint comes to an end and we have a day of treats or team lunch, followed by a couple of hours of sprint retrospective and planning ahead. Otherwise, I spend my lunch hour reading (lately it's been the Westmark trilogy by Lloyd Alexander, or the latest D&D release). Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week, because I get to spend from 11:25 to 1:00 pm playing D&D with my work group! I've been the DM for the better part of the year for the gnome sorcerer Snackle Timbers, elf noble rogue Travaldus "Zeke" Gershwin, human abjuror Valera "Mom" Edgwood, tiefling bard/warlock Owen Viktor, and Urgbar the dwarf barbarian; but soon we'll be switching DMs like my group at Boostability did, and I'm excited to play my goliath monk, Paavu "Steadyhand" Koloa-Olathi. Even though my fellow players and I only get to play this hour and a half a week, it's been a lot of fun and we've been able to craft quite the story for their adventuring group, Momma O'Snazzy (Mom + Owen + Snackle + Zeke).

The longest part of the day is usually from 2:00–3:00, when I get sleepy. Sometimes in the company's Microsoft Teams I get a notification that the lunchroom has snacks restocked or that the higher-ups in the company have leftovers in the break room, but otherwise afternoons are pretty samey each day. I'm usually done for the day at 4:30. To avoid even worse construction on the other side of the highway, I head home a different way. It may or may not be faster, but it's less stressful, and there's one road that dips down at a 16° angle, which is fun.

Back Home
If my wife and kids are home when I get there, I greet them and play with them for a while. Otherwise, I try to get some productive moments to myself on my latest project for my YouTube channel or D&D campaign. Around 5:00, my wife or I administer a daily enema to my son, who was born with an imperforate anus. It was a bit inconvenient at first to take an hour out of each evening to flush his system out, but we got used to it pretty quickly, so it's just part of our daily routine.

I usually make dinner, but if the enema is started too late or if the kids are too tired and need to go to bed early, we don't get to spend much time together at the dinner table. We try our best to read some passages from Come Follow Me to the kids, and then try and get them to bed before 7:30 (since they get up so early). The kids love mom best when it comes to tucking them in, but my wife and I try to take turns. If it's my son's turn, I turn on his sound machine, help him say his prayers, and then sing him a song. His favorites are "The Blooming Heather," "Autumn Day," "It's Raining Tacos," and "The Alligator King." I love when he sings along with me.

Otherwise, I read a chapter or so from a book to my daughter. We just finished the two books in the Castle in the Attic series, and now we're starting to read The Hobbit! I'm hoping it'll give her a crash course in high fantasy for future D&D playing together. After that, most likely I'll start reading her Harry Potter.

Evening
After the kids are in bed, it's quiet time. I eat my dessert for the day and either work on a project, play a computer game, or watch a TV show or movie with the missus. Currently, I'm in between projects, so it feels a bit weird. I hate limbo periods. Hopefully I'll get excited about something else soon. Once I get my YouTube check, I'm sure I'll be able to buy some new D&D material for me to read. Speaking of D&D, if I'm lucky, I get to play a session of D&D with my wife, brother, and sister-in-law; and Fridays are my online D&D game with my childhood best friend. D&D is such a huge part of my life now, as you can probably see with my last few entries (and this one). I wonder if my daily routine will always have this much related to it for the rest of my life. 

If I'm nice to myself, I go to bed at around 10:30 or 11:00, but lately with watching Attack on Titan season 3, nights have gone on pretty late. I pray, plug my phone into the wall and put it in the pocket of my hanging shorts or cargo pants, and go to sleep spooning my wife under the glow-in-the-dark stars I put on our ceiling when we first moved here.

And that's my routine this year! Maybe in a couple more I'll do this again. Last year was a garbage year that I'd rather not remember, so with that as an exception, who knows? This could be another fun tradition.

Aug 14, 2019

4 D&D Tables for Exploration Inspiration

Along with coming up with homebrew rules and features for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, I've also been compiling lists of just general ideas for elements to put into future campaigns. I figured I may as well share them here for your use in campaigns, if you wish. Especially since I'll probably keep accumulating ideas faster than I can implement them. Feel free to roll on a table if you need inspiration.

1d12 Interesting NPCs

  1. A young woman who red books about the other planes as a child and who has always dreamed of visiting another realm of existence.
  2. An old man who always talks about all the things he had in his childhood village that was destroyed. He wishes he could go back and get his things someday.
  3. A man with a mental or physical condition or is essentially a vegetable in bed. His wife is overwhelmed with taking care of him and secretly wishes he would die so she can move on with her life.
  4. A guy who misses his sweetheart in his home village a few days' travel away. (She's since married to someone else, but he doesn't know this)
  5. A single dad who just wants his son to get a good education in the city instead of being a poor farmhand (The kid's super smart, but the family's poor).
  6. A woman who wants the PCs to take her son as an apprentice adventurer.
  7. A mysterious ranger with a stutter, with many tokens of extremely dangerous beasts around his neck.
  8. A young awkward man who thinks the only way he can get a girl to marry him is by becoming an adventurer.
  9. A halfling merchant who sells "discount spell components." 33% the price, but have a 50% chance of failing and wasting the spell cast (e.g., a cubic zirconia gem that can be used as a diamond component in raise dead, but only costs 250 gp)
  10. A paladin who has sworn a vow of silence. His warhorse has had an awaken spell placed upon it and speaks for him.
  11. A half-orc that sounds stupid when speaking Common but very intelligent and dapper when speaking Orcish.
  12. A wizard who tattoos spells on his skin with the arcane ink instead of into a spellbook. The ones he has prepared glow faintly.

1d20 Plot Hooks

  1. An old stone statue on a mountain is actually the petrified body of an ancient hero. Or maybe his body was broken into several pieces and scattered to different towns as relics.
  2. It starts snowing in the summer or having some other type of weird weather. A storm giant or insane druid might be to blame.
  3. The adventurers reach a town being threatened by a swooping young green dragon. A lone hero is charging the town all their money in return for slaying it. He's actually in a deal with the green dragon's father, and if the heroes actually kill the dragon instead of fake-killing it like he planned to, he could be in huge trouble with its parent.
  4. A thief steals an artifact from an NPC, location, or PC, and flees into a cave. He's found dead inside the cave, killed by traps, and something deeper within the cave has taken the artifact farther within.
  5. The party receives a letter that begins "Once upon a time there were four adventurers..." describing the PCs exactly, and ending with "Little did they know that someone was plotting their doom..."
  6. A furious storm hits the PCs, to the point where they start taking cold damage and exhaustion if they don't take shelter. A nearby barrow den or cave may as well be explored while they wait for the storm to end.
  7. A bard wishes to obtain an instrument of wonder and hires the PCs to find one from an ancient bard's tomb.
  8. A druid or ranger who hates civilization is sending animals and plant creatures to harass a town.
  9. A crying woman pleads with you to save her kidnapped baby from a werebear in the woods. The baby is actually a werebear cub, and the woman is actually a hag in disguise.
  10. A desert peak rages with a swirling sandstorm, which is actually a storm giant quintessant. It guards a lamp wherein lies a genie who will grant a single wish for its freedom.
  11. Bandits seem to know exactly where each trading caravan is at any given time. A shopkeeper is an informant, as evidenced by his caravans never getting robbed.
  12. The PCs find a map showing their country, but with four cities on it that they have never heard of.
  13. A wizard wants a live specimen of a troll to study.
  14. A kingdom has been ruled by an ancient gold dragon king for centuries. His wyrmling prince son has been kidnapped by an evil princess and must be saved.
  15. A player's personal business is sneakily taken over by a doppelganger, or worse, a rakshasa.
  16. A graveyard holds the key to a quest's completion, but a retired paladin keeps a very watchful eye on you and vows to kill you if you desecrate the holy place.
  17. People are dying in their sleep in a specific district of town. If the PCs fall asleep in that district and fail on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw, they enter a dream world. All damage dealt to them is psychic damage in the dream, and they can focus (with Wisdom checks, probably) to manipulate the dream world in small ways as they find out what is going on.
  18. The players are summoned by an extraplanar creature using the conjure humanoids spell. They are dominated until the creature's concentration breaks. Afterward, if they die, they reform in the Material Plane, but all their possessions would stay in the other plane.
  19. The sun freezes in place in the sky, and the day/night cycle stops. The Diamond of the World was stolen from an ancient cave and must be returned to bring the world back to normal.
  20. A cleric has been framed for a crime by a cambion posing as a captain of the guard who wishes to sacrifice him.

1d20 Traps and Puzzles

  1. A magical barrier prevents all metal from passing through it. In order to pass, you must remove all metal from your person.
  2. A stone giant engraving shows the answer to a riddle if a light source is placed at a certain point, showing shadows in hidden angles to the engraving.
  3. A large handprint engraving on a door has holes at each fingertip. When the correct fingers are placed in each hole (it will require more than one person due to the hand's size), the door will open.
  4. A gypsy caravan parks next to the side of the road and offers food in exchange for directions. They also perform for the PCs if they agree, singing and dancing. Wisdom saving throw (DC 14, at disadvantage if they drank the wine the gypsies offered). On a failure, they become enraptured by the music. After one more hour of singing and one more Wisdom saving throw, a second failure puts a PC to sleep. The gypsies steal from any sleeping players and are gone when they wake up.
  5. Luminous fey lichen growing on a cave wall reacts to emotions of those near it, changing color and temperature depending on the nearby creatures' moods.
  6. A lake of boiling water blocks the path.
  7. Every minion in the dungeon has a key, but only one of them (at random) is the correct one.
  8. A hallway with a precious elven artifact at the end of it. The farther down the hallway you go, the more you age. Only a young elf can make it all the way down without dying of old age, since it ages you 500 years by the time you reach the end of it.
  9. A basin of water lies in the middle of the misty room. At the bottom of the water is a strange symbol, but it is a red herring—the real danger is the hallucinogenic mist.
  10. Opening a door triggers a pit trap in the room, but the door's just a facade. The real exit from the room is at the bottom of the pit.
  11. A room has three pressure plates that must be pressed simultaneously. When this occurs, force walls appear forcing the PCs to fight ghouls individually. When a ghoul dies, the player can move through the force walls.
  12. A strangely intelligent chicken wanders around the dungeon. If the chicken is killed and eaten, that person is true polymorphed (DC 19) into a chicken.
  13. A small silver hand mirror shows a different reflection than the creature who looks in it. If gazed into for more than a few seconds, the one gazing into the mirror must make a DC 16 Charisma saving throw or have their face transformed into that of the creature of the mirror. Their own former visage replaces that which the mirror once held. The mirror never works on the same being twice in a row. The first person who looked at the mirror is walking around without a face somewhere. (Or maybe they're in another room in this dungeon...)
  14. A pristine-looking house in the middle of a dilapidated old village is actually a gargantuan mimic! (Use an encounter with 4 mimics skinned as one)
  15. The local peasants say that to enter the nearby dungeon, you must take the ashes of horse bones and sprinkle them over the threshold, then speak the magic words in Halfling. It turns out, the dungeon door just has a flawed mechanism that makes it only open once every 4 times you try. The rest is mislaid superstition.
  16. A field of saturated mana where slots are not expended. Instead, you take force damage equal to 1d8 x the spell’s level each time you cast. Cantrips deal 1d4 force damage instead.
  17. Cursed ground prevents any spell higher than 2nd level from being cast. Higher spell slots are cast at 1st level. Great for a higher-level party.
  18. A super creepy and suspicious tunnel that ends with a blanket-covered treasure chest. No traps. Possibly the treasure chest is full of gems covered in clay.
  19. A room contains a couch, clock, and table with a bowl of fruit on it. The door locks behind the group, and they must find out that turning the clock backward and forward changes the flow of time in the room for its objects, including the fruit and the door.
  20. A dangerous-looking room that’s actually completely disabled with a key in the wall on the other side. Remove the key, and the trap begins again.

1d12 Discoveries and Encounters

  1. A forlorn altar on the top of a hill has runes that glow every night of a full moon. If a silver cup of water is placed on the altar before midnight, it will be enchanted to be a potion of greater restoration.
  2. A graveyard where animals come to die reanimates—tons of different skeletal dogs and cats and stuff attack. Easy to kill, but swarms.
  3. An old tribal woman (perhaps a goliath), fighting for her life against a pack of wolves. If you kill the wolves, she scolds you, saying that her time had come to die and she wanted to go out in an honorable way.
  4. A roped off area with warning signs (“no metal!”). A giant lodestone stands embedded in the earth with weapons and pieces of metal stuck to it. Characters wearing metal who get too close get sucked toward it (DC 14 Strength saving throw).
  5. A super creepy farmhouse that has absolutely nothing wrong with it and nothing inside it of value to be found.
  6. A shining diamond or gold vein shines exposed in a rock. Several dead kobolds lay scattered about with their brains knocked out. It’s actually an earth elemental that doesn’t want to be hit with pickaxes.
  7. A “desert medusa” with cobras for hair that turns people into sandstone, or a hydra medusa whose gaze turns people into gold.
  8. A rogue clockwork kraken that looks like a clock tower.
  9. A troll with a 10-foot radius of magical silence following it. Dangerous if encountered at night.
  10.  A wide chasm in a desert with the ruined remains of an ancient land bridge. A humming blur nearby is a thinning in the rift between the material plane and the Shadowfell, which can be opened by expending a spell slot of 2nd level or higher (DC 13 Arcana check to realize this). In the Shadowfell’s mirrored version of the world, the bridge is intact, but shades and an ogre skeleton are threatening there.
  11. You free a young bronze dragon in a dungeon. The dragon fights by your side, but a powerful spellcaster polymorphs the dragon into a crystal. Thereafter, you have a crystal that can allow you to summon the dragon for 5 seconds per day, to allow you to fly, breathe lightning, or use its prodigious strength. Maybe at some point in the future, an adventure could unlock the crystal so that you could have the dragon as a semi-permanent companion.
  12. Beehives that have enchanted honeycomb due to the bees getting the nectar from magical flowers nearby. Or, the honey makes you lucky because it’s from lucky clovers

Aug 5, 2019

The Incredible Machine Song Lyrics

I remember the PC game The Incredible Machine with much fondness, and I miss it dearly—Its spiritual successor, Contraption Maker, just isn't the same, and it's the closest thing I can find to it nowadays. One thing I still enjoy from The Incredible Machine is its music. When I was a kid, I realized if I put the Incredible Machine CD into my mom's stereo, it played the music from the game! I ripped the songs onto my PC, and they've been juggled around from computer to computer ever since. And now my favorite ones are in my iTunes.

One thing I've noticed is that I can't seem to find the lyrics to many of these songs anywhere online. So I thought I'd take it upon myself to listen to them as close as I can and transcribe them here for any other Incredible Machine fans to find. Listed below are all the songs in Incredible Machine that have lyrics to them.

Hay Seed

LYRICS

Aw, yeah!
It's the Incredible Machine hoedown!
Say, has anybody seen my dog?
Boy, playin' these complicated games makes me about as antsy as a frog on a freeway with his hopper busted.
You know, if y'all can solve this puzzle, maybe you can come out in my front yard and help me get my truck started.
Sit down, dog!
Oh, don't drop my hog in the parts bin. You'll be forever tryin' to find it. Ho ho ho!
Where'd I put my wrench?
I just love watchin' Ol' Daisy dance to this little thing here.
Music to make pork sausage by!
Yessir, I could just sit here and do this all day.
Playin' this guitar makes my wrist kinda tired.
You got a leash for that goose?
Aw, yeah!
Heh heh heh heh!
Oh, this game is awfully complicated...
Startin' to make my eyes kinda tired.
Hold on! Don't leave. Sit on back in yer chair and think.
The Incredible Machine.
Kinda like my ex-wife.
Have some chicken. Watch all day. Good flavor. Boogie.
Till the cows come home.
Take it home, boys!
Aw, yeah!

Techno Rave

LYRICS

The pieces are coming together.
The pieces are coming together.
The pieces are coming together.
Oh no, it's the machine!
Oh no, it's the machine!
It's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
It's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
It's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
It's become clear it's become clear it's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
The pieces are coming together.
The pieces are coming together.
Oh no, it's the machine!
Oh no, it's the machine!
Oh no, it's the machine!
Oh no, it's the machine!
It's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
It's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
It's become clear that the machine is completely out of control.
It's become it's become it's become clear
The pieces are coming together.

Hip Hop

LYRICS

Aw, yeah...
Ready to play this game, kid?
Then here we go...
Picture this, Poindexter: pipes and things
Into the screen of this thing, The Incredible Machine!
A scene!
It's kinda like a dream. What I mean is you can't put it down!
It's amaaaazing!
Now ya
Pick your pieces and choose your parts
To start
Use your smarts, cuz ya know it's the bomb at heart!
Make something, flip the light switch.
Kaboom!
The dynamite is in the next room.
Zoom zoom angles, next on the menu
Creep, crawl, dip, slide, then continue.
Do what ya gotta do to obtain your spot
Then snatch ya props if ya get the hops.
Yeah
If this appears as a dream, don't sweat it—
It's the Incredible Machine!
Wacky, wild, and crazy it seems? Absolutely!
It's the Incredible Machine!
It's all about who you are,
Where ya at
And if you are that cage-curry cool cat
Grab what ya need to the deed and then
Pause...
Proceed!
Back to the underground
Back to the scene-scene
You're on the screen with contraptions battling
Lose your mouse
Drag your mouse left or right
Round and round, up and down with all your might
Solve a puzzle build a puzzle, you can do whatever
Flip a switch, fly a kite, even pull a lever
It doesn't matter. You make the choice, it seems
That's the fun of the Incredible Machine!
It's the Incredible Machine.
(phone rings)
Hello?
Yeah, if this appears as a dream, don't sweat it—
It's the Incredible Machine!
Wacky, wild, and crazy it seems? Absolutely!
It's the Incredible Machine!
Yeah, if this appears as a dream, don't sweat it—
It's the Incredible Machine!
Wacky, wild, and crazy it seems? Absolutely!
It's the Incredible Machine!
Ha-ha-ha-ha-haa.
The Incredible Machine.
Keep playing, kid.
It only gets better.
The computer is your best friend.
Egghead.
Hey, Egghead.
Poindexter! Yeah, you in the—
What? What's that?
I dunno.
I don't know...

Steel Drums

LYRICS

Ha ha ha ha!
Ya, mon! It's limbo time!
While you bendin' your mind over backwards!
Put a little tap in your finger, now!
Ha ha ha!
Wipe dat puzzled look off your face. It's just a game, mon!
How low can you go?
Ha ha, ???
Bending over backwards for the Incredible Machine! Limbo!
Oh, ???, mon!
You taking it home now!
Ha ha ha!
Oo, dat one! Over there!
Don't pop the balloon!
Help dat little mouse go home.
Aw, the steel drum makin' happy music!
Make it easy to solve the puzzle, mon!
Heh heh heh heh. You havin' too much fun.

Jul 31, 2019

10 Calvin & Hobbes Strips I Don't Understand

Bill Watterson is one of my dearest heroes. His adherence to the integrity of art over merchandise, his excellence in the execution of comic drawing, his sense of humor, and his reclusive nature as an author all resonate with me and have been key points of inspiration for Knight Guy. And being a dreamer myself, Calvin & Hobbes's topic material focus on imagination, childhood, and nostalgia have always brought me joy and made me feel like I'm a kid on summer vacation again.

I had all of the Calvin & Hobbes books (or at least all the cartoons—some were collections of two books) by the time I was about 15 years old, and I've made it a tradition to read through the entire series chronologically every other year or so. I'm amazed at how year after year I can find new strips to laugh aloud at and other ones that bring tears to my eyes as I read the same strips at different points in my lifetime.

Despite my lifelong love for Calvin & Hobbes, there are still some strips that—even after all these decades—I just don't get. Going through the series this time, I decided to compile all the strips I don't understand here with a request for anyone who knows* they understand a strip to explain the humor or punchline of it to me in the comments below.

For the strips that are part of a longer story arc, I've put contextual information in the text that appears when you hover your mouse cursor over the picture. I look forward to your enlightenment!
_______
*Please do not speculate. I've done plenty of that over the years. I want to know if it's something obvious I'm missing or if there's some context you can point out to clear it up.


1.
A substitute teacher came to class, showing disdain at a note that Miss Wormwood wrote about Calvin.
2.
Is Hobbes saying eighteen million, or just $18.00? Either way, why is that the punchline?
3.
4.
5.
6.
At first I thought they're just "going" home because the hill is so bad, but it looks like they're walking farther up the hill.

7.
8.
His expression in the final panel is utterly unreadable.
9.
What in the world does honesty have to do with anything in this situation?
10.

Jul 16, 2019

3 Inspiring Game Design Tips I Learned from Hollow Knight

A few weeks ago I purchased the game Hollow Knight during the Steam Summer Sale, and I can not stop thinking about how perfectly it caters to the human mind's idea of fun, progression, mystery, and challenge. I spend a lot of time compiling resources for being a Dungeon Master for Dungeons & Dragons, and this game was so inspiring, I just have to write a blog post about it. I hope I can do justice to my thoughts about the game in picking apart exactly what is so awesome about it.

There are probably spoilers here, so be warned.

1. Gradually decrease and increase the difficulty

Like any other game, Hollow Knight increases the difficulty of the game gradually. As your power grows, you are able to access more and more dangerous areas. This is important for any game—it feels good as a player to get a new sword (or in this game's case, nail) so that the enemies you've been struggling with are much easier to deal with. But Hollow Knight goes a step farther with this. It makes sure that even early-game challenges don't become totally meaningless to you.

When you first get into the game, you enter a place called the Forgotten Crossroads. It's an area with fairly basic enemies and obstacles that more or less let you practice the gameplay with few resources. You return often to the Crossroads, since it's the central hub of the entire game world. Eventually, especially when you upgrade your nail, the enemies become nuisances and nothing more. They also drop less Geo (money), so they're not even worth fighting, and your mobility abilities you gain allow you to ignore them completely at that point.

At or around the point where the Forgotten Crossroads become, well, forgettable, something happens.

Mmmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmmm-mmm, mmmm-mmm-mm-mm....There you are, completing a task in one of the outlying areas and heading back to the Crossroads, when you notice a strange orange bubble you haven't seen before at the area's border. When you enter, you see that the place is now called the Infested Crossroads. The enemies you used to fight are still there, but they're bigger, angrier, and orange-er. When the challenge rating of the Forgotten Crossroads gradually gets down to zero, the game upgrades the area to be a new, infested challenge! The enemies are similar, but more dangerous. Some areas are blocked by infesting vines, making some of the convenient travel points or shops more difficult and time-consuming to access.

Just as the difficulty increases gradually so the game never gets boring, it also lets you overcome difficulties so the game never gets frustrating. When you enter a new area, you don't have a map to look at. So you explore somewhat blindly until you see map scraps on the ground and hear the pleasant humming of Cornifer, the map maker. When you find him, he makes the area much easier to
navigate by selling you a map. Similarly, you may have to brave a dangerous string of challenges to get to a certain point in an area, but once you complete it, there is usually a wooden support you can break that opens the hallway back to the starting point, so you never have to go through that particular challenge again!

In short, Hollow Knight never becomes boring. When you feel like a god, the game smoothly turns the familiar into sinister, and you feel like you are meeting your match once again.

2. Balance long-term progress with short-term progress

Every game has a primary goal that requires lots of steps to reach. In order to save Princess Toadstool, Mario has to jump through Worlds 1-1 to 8-4, possibly skipping areas if the player is good enough. In order to win Uno, you must gradually get rid of your cards and pile cards on others until you can play your last one. Some games need this kind of simplicity, but truly engaging games need something more: side goals.

The storyline in Hollow Knight is vague, but you can tell basically what steps you must take to win the game. What makes the game more fun than the long-term progress, however, are the short-term side goals that break the long progress up. You collect Charms that give you special abilities, and you can see in your player menu how many there are left in the world for you to find; you can collect Mask Shards and Vessel Fragments to increase your health and mana ("Soul"), making it easier to achieve the primary goal over time.

I think what makes this so much fun is that it simulates real life. My primary goal to "win" the game of life is to grow old with my wife having raised strong, independent children and having reached my spiritual potential. But on the way to that goal, I have a myriad of daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly goals that occupy my attention. Even if my side goals of making money and surviving from day to day were met, I don't think I could physically stand to only focus on growing old, raising children, and being spiritual 24/7 for 80 years or however long I live. Having that goal in the background while I try to make a delicious meal for dinner, plan out my productivity at work for the week, or save money for my trip to the Renaissance Faire next month makes it all the more meaningful. It fills my life with memories and grants me skills that make it easier to be happy.

I think every meaningful game needs to have side quests that the player cares about, even if it's just knowing there are 100 hidden items and trying to find every single one. 

3. Let hints speak for themselves

I'm beginning to hate games that hold your hand and tell you exactly how to play and what to do when you first start playing a game. Hollow Knight proves that you don't need to do this, and in fact, letting your player discover how to play by themselves is infinitely more satisfying. Of course the only way to defeat Uumuu is to wait until Quirrel makes it vulnerable and then hit it with your nail. But rather than having Quirrel pop up and say "Its gelatinous shell is too strong for your nail! Wait until I weaken it so you can attack its core!" The game simply starts the boss fight, lets you fight uselessly against Uumuu for a minute or so, and then makes Quirrel appear and hit it, visibly showing that its core is exposed and ready for you to hit it.

Look at it! Doesn't it make you want to comb every corner of the game to free them all?Obviously, hints should be clear enough so that players don't get frustrated or confused, but it's more worthwhile to work on making clear hints than it is to make overly-clear detailed instructions. And this rule goes for secrets in the game as well, not just mandatory quests.

For example, the first area of significance I found in the game was a giant room filled with holes, and
a weeping caterpillar creature poking out of one of the holes at the top of it. He was too far away to talk to, so I had no idea why he was crying. So I just left. Soon afterward, I heard a high-pitched sad sound and discovered a grub trapped inside a glass container. When I broke it, the grub jumped for joy, and then promptly burrowed into the ground out of sight. I sat there for a few moments wondering if I was going to get some kind of reward, but nothing happened, so I moved on.

Later, after freeing some more grubs, I decided to revisit that room to see if I had missed something or could use one of my new abilities to talk to the weeping caterpillar. When I entered the room, I saw all of the grubs I had freed poking out of various holes in the room, waving and cheering with joy. The caterpillar who had once been crying was now leaping for joy, and though I still couldn't talk to him, he threw down handfuls of Geo for me as a reward.

How amazing is this as a way to present a discovery? Hollow Knight's developers could have easily made the caterpillar able to be talked to, with some kind of dialog like "Oh, boo hoo, I just don't know what to do! My poor children have all been captured and locked away throughout the kingdom. Will you find them and free them for me? I will reward you for your efforts!" but instead, they let me discover each step of the side quest without explanation, letting me put together the threads of the story together in my head. Letting these hints speak for themselves makes all the difference in making playing Hollow Knight a satisfying experience.

* * *

There are probably more things I could talk about, like the aesthetics of the game and how the balance of dark, funny, adorable, and epic blend so beautifully; or the challenges of the unique boss fights and how you can customize your Charm combinations to feel in control. And maybe I will. But these tips in particular are the ones that have been most inspiring to me of late. They make me want to implement similar things in my D&D games, like a personal side quest for each player character, clearer hints in dungeon puzzles that make the players feel smarter, and making challenges of lower-CR creatures fresh and challenging in new ways to make them feel more powerful.

At any rate, I can't recommend this game enough. It is well worth the on-sale price I paid for it, and I would have gladly paid twice the normal price for how much fun I've gotten out of it. And I also can't wait to purchase the sequel!

Jun 26, 2019

Heroes of Silvermoon, Final Chapter: A New Port of Kings

Contents:
  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 11: A New Port of Kings

With the elder brain destroyed, the group attempted to return to the surface, but all of their exits had been blocked in, seemingly on purpose by King Bane, who wanted the adventurers who knew too much, as well as the paladins of the Tree of Life, dead. Luckily, Gorthuk used his divine powers to mold the stone around them into a tunnel, which led them to the Port of Kings dungeons. There, they met Sigil, who revealed himself to be a half-rakshasa, and told them of his father's corruption and deception of the whole of Port of Kings, as well as his intention of expanding endlessly to conquer the world as whole. He revealed that he could disguise himself, and had in fact encountered them as Lore, an old man at the Hinterlands they had met, and even the page boy Bradley Bean. Out of revenge for most of the group, and for preserving the city who had taken Rhogar in as a child, the group stormed the dungeon, freeing captives and fighting King Bane's guards until they reached the throne room for a final showdown.

Rhogar's innate good alignment allowed him to carve through King Bane's true form, and the others, including Laureal Strongborn, kept King Bane's powerful guards at bay. At last, King Bane was struck down and Port of Kings freed from his influence.

With the city freed and without a leader, Gorthuk reached out to his deity, Samedi, and petitioned his divine intervention in assuring that Rhogar would be chosen as the new king of Port of Kings. The heroes parted their separate ways, content to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

...at least, for now.