Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Departure 3: The Frenchening

Proving that I will spend lavish amounts of effort and money to stay on someone's couch for free, I am departing for points west today. Expect no updates for the next week. "But how is that in any way dissimilar to last week," I hear you ask, to which I magnanimously reply "shut up."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome New Friends, Hopefully

I sent an unsolicited e-mail to bona fide internet celebrity Chris Sims re: the Saddest Heroes of Them All, who was impressed enough to throw them up on his legitimate comics journalism webiste, ComicsAlliance with a link back here.

So, for any potential new readers, welcome! There's probably nothing for you here.

This blog is about half overwritten, melodramatic travelblog and half overwritten, melodramatic analysis and development of tabletop RPGs. Not a lot of comics content here. I guess I played some Champions. I could write about some Champions. And I've been turning over a system solution for that thing villains do where they put innocents in danger to get away, which I have loosely titled "Peril", but no concrete ideas yet.

But hey, I know full well how nerdy spheres of influence can overlap, so maybe some of you are into this scene. If so, welcome! Here are some posts to get you started:

My first post
outlines what I wanted to do with this thing when I started it back in May. You may notice that I've begun new columns. You may notice that I haven't done some of these at all. In fact, expect a post on why I haven't done Sourcebook Corner fairly soon. (I haven't done The Politics of Make-Believe because it's boring).

Baroque and Roll was fun, though it lacks a unifying conclusion.

You'll want to catch up on the latest exploits of The Old Witch of Riga.

Hey! Comics content! Inserted clumsily into one of my worst-written posts! I plan on revisiting the idea at some point.

Share and enjoy! And, theoretical new reader (and old readers too, I guess), if there's something you want me to write about, leave a comment, and I'd be (probably) happy to oblige.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Escape From Zachodni Station

(Last time. The Time Before)

You are awake. A shrill sine wave is drilling into your ears, but it doesn't bother you so much if you stop paying attention to it. There are some SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS here. There is a SECURITY GUARD here. He guards the exit to the east. He is shouting in POLISH. Exits are north, south, east.

You were not robbed during the night. You have:
-BAGS (2)
-stupid useless deadweight OVERCOAT (currently equipped to inventory slot: blanket)
-GLASSES (currently equipped to inventory slot: face, slightly bent from sleeping on them)
-HAT (currently equipped to inventory slot: face)
-WALLET (currently equipped to inventory slot: pockets)
-PASSPORT (currently equipped to inventory slot: pockets)

==>inventory, emotional
You are HELLA TIRED. The station is opening, leaving you GUARDEDLY OPTIMISTIC. Deep inside, you are still SOMEWHAT CONCERNED THAT YOU'LL NEVER SEE YOUR FRIENDS AGAIN, though you also have GRIM DETERMINATION.

The SECURITY GUARD is becoming most insistent.

You go NORTH.

You are in the area of the station that was open last night. Through the east is a BAR promising INTERNET for only 5 ZLOTY. The exit west has been unbarred since last night. An exit south leads to ZACHODNI HOSTEL.

You go WEST.

You are in the waiting area of the station. There are CHAIRS here. There is a SHIFTLESS BACKPACKER here, asleep on a CHAIR. There is a KIOSK here. There are PAYPHONES here. Exits are west and east.
==> examine kiosk

This KIOSK is about 5 feet from where you were last night, goddamn it. It contains INTERNET. Its SCREENS are-
==> use kiosk use kiosk use kiosk!!!

I'm sorry, I don't understand. And you didn't let me finish. Its SCREE-
==> use kiosk

The KIOSK does not function. Its SCREENS are blue. They display ERROR MESSAGES.
==> turn off kiosk, turn on kiosk

The KIOSK has no visible power controls, which I would have told you if you'd have let me finish earlier.
==> sorry

It's okay, you're under a lot of stress.
==>unplug kiosk

==>examine PAYPHONES

There sure are a lot of 'em. They feature detailed SIGNS explaining COUNTRY DIALING CODES.
==> call Friend Marco

And how will you be paying today, sir?
==>use credit card

Use what?
==> you're going to make me do this, aren't you?
==>open wallet

Your WALLET contains 50 LATS, 20 EUROS, and 0 ZLOTY. It contains several identity and payment CARDS.
==>take credit card

==>use credit card with payphone


I'm sorry. I don't understand. You may enter "==> help" at any time to view the TUTORIAL and list of available commands.
==>no seriously, what the hell?

I'm sorry. I don't -
==>fine, fine.
==>use credit card with different payphone

==>use credit card with every goddamn payphone

==>use debit card with payphone

You mean the debit card that doesn't work anywhere on this continent?

No way.
==>you don't want my money, you stupid machines?

Guess not.

You go WEST.


During that business with the PAYPHONES, this place has opened up some. A few CONVENIENCE STORES have begun operating. There is a TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY OUTLET here. You can see BUSSES departing and arriving through the exit north. You can see a PARKING LOT through an exit south. You can see A BUNCH OF STUPID PAYPHONES THAT DON'T WORK through an exit east.
==>examine outlet


Still closed. Everything else is open though.


You go SOUTH


You are now outside. There is a PARKING LOT here. There are many TRAVELLERS here, though some may be SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS. South, you can see a 24-HOUR VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT. West, you can see a FREEWAY. East, you can see the entrance to ZACHODNI HOSTEL. There is a FAST-FOOD SHACK here. There is an ATM here.
==> use atm

You use your DEBIT CARD with the ATM. You receive 50 ZLOTY, which go into your WALLET.

You go NORTH.

==>examine convenience store

A small booth staffed by a short, toadlike old lady. It seems to sell DELICIOUS PASTRIES and PHONE CARDS.
==>buy phone card

You can't! You are too scared of looking like a stupid tourist!
==>no I'm not

Are too.
==>learn how to say phone card from sign

==>buy phone card.

How big a phone card? And what kind?

==>hold up five fingers

Perfect. You lose 5 ZLOTY. You gain one PHONE CARD.
==>use phone card with payphone

That doesn't work.
==>examine phone card

Looks like you got the wrong kind of phone card! This is credit for a cell phone!
==>yeah, I kinda thought so
==>formulate cunning plan

You gain one CUNNING PLAN.
==>examine plan

Well, it turns out that back home in CANADA, it's only 9pm. Folks might still be awake there. And something tugs at your memory. You've seen reference to CANADA another time today...
==>examine country dialing codes

Wow, every country in Europe gets its own! But you can only collect call Canada and the US, for whatever reason.
==>collect call mom!

Seriously? This is your plan?
==>damn straight

Okay. After some menacing clicking noises, your MOM answers the phone.
==>ask mom for phone number

How the heck would she know it?
==>give mom facebook login info

==>chat with mom

That's really expensive.
==>chat with mom

You learn many exciting things about the health of your family and the state of renovations at home. Your EMOTIONAL STABILITY improves slightly.
==>use number with payphone

And how will you be paying, sir?
==>free local calling?

I don't think so.
==>borrow phone from backpackers

You approach some SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS. They speak English! They are successfully reassured that this is a local call! They lend you their phone.
==>call krzysztof

No answer. The backpackers are leaving!
==>return phone
==>borrow different phone

These SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS also speak English! But they're not locals. So they're not using their phone. You suspect that might be a common problem in a bus station.
==>look for business

A business wouldn't mind making some local calls for you! You see a 24-HOUR VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT to the south.

You go SOUTH.

==>s, s, s!

You go SOUTH.


An unspectacular but pleasant little place with blue wallpaper. There are no PATRONS here. There is THE NICEST POLISH-VIETNAMESE MAN YOU'VE EVER MET here.
==>ask waiter for phone

He doesn't speak English!

He produces a PHONE. Not a landline, his very own cellular PHONE. What a nice guy.
==>give number to waiter

You give FRIEND KRZYSZTOF'S PHONE NUMBER to the WAITER. He uses it with his PHONE.
==> take phone

You take the PHONE.

It makes some WEIRD NOISES then disconnects.
==>try again!

Success! Friend Krzysztof answers! He sounds almost as relieved as you are.
==>get directions

Friend Krzysztof gives you DIRECTIONS TO HIS PLACE.
==>thank waiter

You suspect the smile on your face communicates how important this was to you. You lose the PHONE.
==>use directions with bus stop

Success! As the BUS rolls down the freeway, you exult with joy after finally having- wait a sec.

I don't know, shouldn't you have won?
==>examine transit map

That explains it. Your bus is going the wrong way!
==>get off, use directions with bus stop on other side of the street

Success! As the BUS rolls down the freeway, you exult with joy after finally having ESCAPED FROM ZACHODNI STATION!
Total playtime: 5 hours 13 minutes
Final score: 172

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Sad Superheroes of Riga

Hello, friends. As you may know, I'm currently on an internship in Riga, Latvia (which is, itself, only a slight verbal hesitation away from being directly comics-related). I saw these ages ago, and knew I had to share them. I sprung into action! Given how many months I've been here, you can tell how inspired I was. Nevertheless, you, dear reader don't want to hear my excuses, you demand results! So, I bring you, the Sad Superheroes of Riga.

Hobo Supes - A dejected Superman grilling a hot dog over a campfire he's starting with his heat vision.

Roadkill - A blue-tighted red-caped hero (presumably Superman) crumpled beneath the front bumper of a mid-sized sedan (presumably kryptonite was involved. Although, the sky in the background is tinged slightly red). Batman and some urban youth in baggy sportswear look on in dismay. (I note with equal dismay that subsequent grafitti and a goddamn car have obscured Supes's body. Trust me, he's there UPDATE: in fact, look at this detail!)

Sadcap - Captain America, but, like, 70 years old, but he looks 70 years old, wearing a respirator and looking crestfallen.

Sundered Robocop - Again, sorry for the shitty picture, but here we have Robocop missing both his legs, one arm, and various other bits.

Saddest Hulk - This one is a few blocks from the others, which makes me hopeful that there are more around town. Pretty self-explanatory: a bawling Hulk with gamma-irradiated tears running down his face.

On the corner between Batman and Cap, there used to be one of Robin with an arm in a sling and an IV stand, but the plank he was on was replaced before I got my hands on a camera. It's always the children who suffer the most.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Fixed 7th Sea Some More

I love 7th Sea, but it wasn't very good. So I rewrote it. My list of 'house rules' changes the character advancement system to be more like Legend of the Five Rings 3rd Edition, hopefully addressing some of the underdeveloped or poorly thought-out system aspects in the process. I

t currently runs to about 20,000 words. If you want a copy, let me know.

Anyway, I picked it up again this week, for no reason whatsoever, and added a new thing that I think helps an underused aspect of the system get some play. Active Defences (a topic I intend to write a bit about in a more generic sense later) in 7th Sea suck and are hard to do. So I added this:

Weapon Speed (Weapon). Advanced Knack for all Weapon Skills with that already have Parry. For the purposes of Active Defence with the noted weapon, you may treat Action Dice as if they rolled an amount lower equal to your Rank in this Knack.

Your maximum Rank in this Knack depends on the weapon: Heavy Weapons and Hand Axes cap at 1; Fencing at 2; Improvised at 2 or 3 (haven't decided, but Improvised Weapons need all the help they can get); Knives, Panzerhands, Polearms, and Staves are 3; Cloaks, Shields, and Bucklers at 4. I also can't remember if you can Parry with whips or not. If so, probably cap at 3.

'Nonstandard' Athlete Knacks (basically everything but Footwork, because I love nerfing Footwork) automatically have Weapon Speed equal to the character's Rank in the Knack.

I've tried to integrate it with some existing (and new) Swordsman Schools granting bonus Ranks and increased maximums.

Any thoughts? Specifically, any thoughts from my 7th Sea group? It feels weird to just drop it in like that, but Knacks aren't exactly hard for you guys to pick up.

If you don't care about this game, then I apologize for everything you just read.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Internet Archaeology

I have discovered what I believe to be the oldest known nerdy Chuck Norris joke in existence.

In 1999's PC game classic Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor, the Grandmaster trainer of the Unarmed combat skill is named Norris, and has kinda a blond mullet thing going on.

It's important to know the historical roots of atrocities, so we can learn from our mistakes, and strive to build a better, classier, actually funny tomorrow.

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Beyond Riga: Zachodni Station


If you're going to write about minor travelling inconveniences in a former Eastern Bloc country in an overly-melodramatic manner, you could do worse than have them occur at a place called Zachodni Station.

I mean, just look at that name. You've got the fairly-menacing "z" and "dn", you've got a letter at the end that pretty much never ends English words, and you have the inherent feelings of terrified uncertainty that accompanies the letter combination "ch" in any language from east of the Rhine. And then you to all that the officious blank signifier of "Station". Anything can happen at a station! What kind of station?

Commentors, feel free to encourage me to tone down the melodrama.

As you'll recall, I stepped into this land of linguistic menace at about 2 or 3am (I had no watch, and no clocks were forthcoming) after a 16-hour bus ride. The station was closed, save for a few outlying fast-food shacks. Friend Krzysztof was nowhere to be found, but I expected that. I had no money, no proficiency at Polish, and no idea what to do.

I staggered around the outskirts of the station for a bit (probably around an hour - this part's a little hazy) thinking that maybe Friend Krzysztof had just decided to pop out for a snack and would be right back, or was hiding behind the homeless guys sleeping on benches. Failing that, I'd settle for one of those pay-for-Internet kiosks they have at airports. No luck.

Part of the station was a little more open. The lobby for Zachodni Hostel (which doesn't sound any nicer) was open, and several backpackers were trying to sleep sitting in uncomfortable chairs while an invisible TV blared nearby. Just through the hostel was a bar that promised WiFi for a few zloty, but a) I didn't have any zloty; b) The bartender spoke no English, and I was too exhausted and/or proud to do Touristspeak; and c) I didn't have a computer anyway.

I did another round of the station, thinking maybe at 3:30 my buddy would decide to swing back and check to see if I'd arrived yet. After an indeterminate length of time standing completetly still and staring incoherently at the parking lot, I decided to head back to the hostel lobby and get some shuteye, figuring everything would be clearer in the morning.

I draped myself with my heavy raincoat that I'd been cursing as dead weight since I left the house, left my bags over my shoulders and my hat on, and drifted off to...


First off, I guess whoever was watching the TV in the adjacent heavily-secured room wanted to make sure all the backpacker bums could hear, so he turned it up about as far as it would go. Second, have you ever tried to sleep sitting up without a headrest in a hard, bus-station chair in your sweaty travelling clothes while wearing a couple of bags, and you're right next to the door that springs open with a menacing whir every couple of minutes, and you have no idea if your present situation will get any better in the light of day, and what if you never find Friend Krzysztof? What then? Do you randomly take public transit around the town trying to find the interesting bits, dragging all this junk with you until finally you collapse from dehydration because there are no ATMs in this scenario and even if there were, you're too afraid to talk to anyone because they'll all know you're a stupid tourist and/or cultural imperialist, despite that thing you heard where Poles like Americans even though you're not American, you could probably pass off as one, but we all know that you'd just freeze up, who are you kidding, remember Brussels?

The other thought going through my mind was how great a blog post this was going to be.

During this time, I made a brief inventory of the different approaches to sleeping in bus stations that I observed. The lucky bastards that got there first stretched out across several seats, though they weren't long enough, so they either elevated their knees, tried to balance on the narrow benches in the fetal position, or twisted their bodies and left their feet on the floor. The lucky ones used altruistic significant others as pillows; the rest used bags or nothing at all. Most tried to sleep sitting up, bags around one leg or, among the more trusting, nearby. The chairs were too far from the wall for them to have much success, as they had to basically lift themselves out of the chair to get any head support. As a result they tried just lolling them back, or to the side, or forward (my first failed technique).

After a few interruptions, I did another fruitless tour of the bus station, and strode back to the hostel lobby, determined to snooze. I packed my comfiest suitcase (not very comfy) under my head and stretched out across the seats. My particular resolution to the Legs Question was to elevate one knee and wedge the other leg in horizontally between the raised leg and the armrest. It is exactly as comfortable as it sounds.

There were a few more obstacles to a good hour's rest. First, let's return to that TV. I was too tired to care at this point, but I did manage to determine that the Polish dubbing industry favours the technique of "letting the original soundtrack run in the background while one stern-sounding man does every character's part" (a movie on the bus ride back did this in Russian, so this might have been Russian too). Anyway, it was an interesting diversion and I grinned beneath the hat on my face. And I was certainly glad when the movie ended and the TV switched off. I was less glad when it started up again playing the test-pattern sine wave frequency. My immediate thoughts were I'll never get to sleep like this. Well, actually I'll probably forget it's there soon enough.

Aside from that, and the police barging in a couple of times and opening alarmed doors to the sudden shock of everyone in the room, there were no more obstacles to a nice, peaceful sleep.

At 5am, the guard office burst open (with the sine wave still playing) and we were told in no uncertain terms to get lost, you goddamn bums (Amazing! I learned Polish in my sleep!), as the station was opening. We could sleep on their benches. The two tough-looking young men that had tried to sleep sitting up had ended up with their heads on each other's shoulders. How cute. I blinked at the grey almost-dawn and staggered over to the awakening bus station.

NEXT TIME: Escape From Zachodni Station!

From Friend Ian

'Don't look back' is a good policy when it comes to basilisks.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries - Beyond Riga: Warsaw Day Zero

Europe! Tiniest of Continents! The distance between things is less here than it is elsewhere! Hell, I was in Vilnius last week. Warsaw's only one country away! And Friend Krzysztof has graciously offered to let me mooch off him for the weekend. Let's do this!

The bus from Riga to Warsaw takes 12-13 hours on a good day.

I set off with my bags and my seasonally-inappropriate overcoat. I had checked the weather before I left. It was about all the preparation I did do. I didn't, for instance, write down Friend Krzysztof's phone number or even consider the slightest chance that the merest possibility might somewhat exist that Central European discount bus lines might be the teensiest bit unreliable.

More fool I.

The bus broke down in Lithuania. At Marijampole, a town notable for its convenience stores that close some time before 6pm on a Friday, they herded us off the bus to effect repairs. You know, after letting us stew in the AC-less heat for about 20 minutes, packed like sardines in a fuzzy, scratchy, synthetic fibre-upholstered can. The passengers disembarked and serious men with rolled-up shirtsleeves sagely applied power tools to the bus's engine. To my ignorant eyes, it looked like a brutal assault on an innocent piece of machinery with hammer and electric drill. The worksite invariably attracted a cluster of (almost entirely male) passengers who looked on sagely. Beneath their stoic exteriors, one could see them struggling with that primal instinct if you just let ME look at it... And hold the drill... I too fell prey to these (entirely baseless) thoughts, which no doubt originate from deep in the evolutionary history of our species, where women tended children and gathered berries, while men repaired savannah tractors.

Two and a half hours later, they managed to excise the offending metal widget, drive somewhere to get a new and better widget, and replace the widget. We were off again! By this point, Phoneless Me knew that there would be trouble down the line.

The sun went down as we trundled through northern Poland. I read my book and watched the far-off lightning, sure that, while it might be difficult to connect with Friend
Krzysztof when I arrived it would certainly happen. Hell, when the freeway into town was washed out by waist-deep floodwaters, delaying my arrival even futher, I barely batted an eye. It was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when I trudged off the bus into my new home, Zachodni Station.

NEXT TIME: Danger! Exhaustion! Broken machinery! Annoying noises!

Update Update Update!

Internet failure! Roaming Central Europe! Exchanging labour for wages, thereby alienating myself from my work, myself, and my fellow man! Or I would be if I got wages. Anyway, expect more updates in the days ahead. I've got a huge backlog of HTDs (interesting ones, even!) and a shiny new RPG project which I'm sure you're dying to hear about.

N.B. HTDs in coming days will not be in chronological order.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

ZSP Has Begun a Great Work!

It has the working title Pentad.

It is a universal conflict system that was conceived for mass combat, but works alright on individual, social, and biplane dogfight scales. Also, eerily good for spaceships.

It is preventing me from serving my country to the best of my ability.