Arthix, the hydra and the concubine

hero and concubines

The hero Arthix promised the Lord of Thambar that he would nullify a particularly troublesome seven headed hydra that dwelt in the bottom of a well and guarded a giant diamond which the Lord coveted. Hundreds of heroes had tried and failed to defeat this hydra because it was in the habit of using all seven heads to look in all directions, thus sneaking up on the hydra was impossible.  Arthix asked for the loan of seven of the Lord’s most desirable concubines. Greed for the diamond drove the king mad; he readily agreed.

Arthix took the seven concubines and chained them in a circle around the well, each one the exact same distance from the well and each one an equal distance from each other — like numbers on a dial. The hydra crawled up from the well with each head looking in a different direction as was its custom. Each head saw a writhing, shrieking, delicious concubine and each head strained to pull the beast towards that desired morsel, but each head was equally strong so the beast remained stationary as the concubines wailed and cried and each head pulled in a different direction with exactly the same force. While the hydra was preoccupied, Arthix snuck in, stole the diamond and ran off. One of the concubines managed to wriggle free of her chains, and, likewise, ran off. The head that had been eyeing her turned its attention to the next concubine in the circle… suddenly that concubine had two heads straining towards her and the hydra slowly pulled itself in her direction since the pull of the hydra’s heads was no longer equally distributed.  The hydra devoured the unlucky concubine and then devoured the other five concubines in turn.

The escaped concubine followed Arthix back to his boat and begged him to take her with him. After they escaped the island together, she chopped off his head with his sword while he slept, threw his body overboard and sailed for the mainland.

The Lord of Thambar’s soldiers arrived and saw the bloody garments of the dead concubines on the ground and that the diamond was missing as a swollen bellied Hydra crawled back into the well for a nap. They rushed back to report these finding to the Lord of Thambar. When he learned that he had lost both the diamond and seven of his concubines, the Lord of Thambar was furious. The Lord of Thambar sent out his huntsmen to all the corners of the land to find the Hero Arthix and return with his head, but since none of them thought to check the bottom of the sea and everyone assumed all seven concubines had perished, the search came to nothing.

Meanwhile, the concubine sailed her ship to the busiest port on the mainland. She changed her name and used the proceeds from the sale of the diamond to live life on her own terms rather than having to be a concubine for the totally unlikeable Lord of Thambar.

And she lived happily ever after.

Excuse me, sir, but can you fix my glaive guisarme?

Ok, so in the real world I need to fix shit (or hire someone to fix shit) all of the time… or replace shit that has worn out. Pipes leak, shoes wear out, food rots or gets eaten — even this sack of blood and meat I call my body needs the occasional repair. In D&D world, stuff never really seems to break.  You can buy that sword at 1st level, and, assuming you don’t hit a rust monster or a black pudding with it, still be using when you are 10th level without ever even having sharpened the damn thing. Of course, by the time they are 10th level, most player will have a pile of magic swords to choose from (unless their DM is a real skin flint), but you get my drift.

I remember in 1st edition AD&D, Gygax suggested you charge player characters x amount per month per level for upkeep (I don’t remember what he called it) and I guess that was supposed to represent hair cuts, getting your boots resoled, the occasional clean shirt or new pair of socks, armor and weapon repairs, etc. I don’t remember ever enforcing that rule (or having it imposed on my character when I was a player), but the Gygaxians will claim that ‘Saint Gary already covered that.’ And I’m not sure that having players deduct 3 silver pieces from their inventory every time they need to get a haircut or their bowstring replaced is going to feel like the ‘stuff of high adventure,’ but since D&D first caught my fancy because it was ‘less abstract’ than other games I had played up until that point, the occasional lack of abstraction within the game can sometimes be jarring or amusing. Greyhawk city is probably chock full of shoe repair shops, but the rules don’t have any accommodation for forcing the players or NPCs to go get their shoes repaired… so how do all of those shoe repair shops stay in business?

Two of my favorite video games, Fallout 3 and Oblivion, have some accommodation for repairs.  In both these video games, armor and weapons wear out as you use them… every time an enemy hits you, the degree to which your armor protects you drops a little bit.  Every time you use a weapon, it wears a little bit and gets a little less effective. In Oblivion, you can purchase ‘repair hammers’ and use them to repair your weapons or armor (how much they repair it depends on your character’s repair skill, but, bizarrely, these little blacksmith hammers disappear as you use them). As an alternative, you can take your equipment to a blacksmith and they will repair it for a price. In Fallout 3, there are merchants who can repair things for you for a price, or, if you have 2 items of the same type (like 2 laser pistols), you can use 1 item to repair the other, leaving you will 1 item in better shape.  The item you used to repair with disappears (and the game makes a little ‘repair’ sound which sometimes sounds like someone tearing off a length of duct tape — which always makes me chuckle). In both games, how high your repair skill is governs how well you can repair. After a while, in both games, I find the ‘repair’ concept gets a little tedious, although I do wonder how my Fallout 3 character takes 4 worn out shotguns and with the click of a mouse creates 1 really good shotgun with no parts left over. Since it’s a computer game, though, you don’t have to track the current condition of your armor and weapons; the computer does it for you.  If you had to keep track of that using paper and pencil, it would require too much effort.

And ‘too much effort’ probably describes why I won’t have rules for wear and tear and repair in Aldeboran (although I guess since the combat “fumble” tables I use have a chance for your weapon to break, so there is a chance a player might need to seek out a repair person from time to time). Things needing repair seems pretty mundane — certainly not what I imagine when I say “adventure.”

Improvised Apocalypse Survival Part 3: Accessories make the Plan

The only question is when.

I’m really enjoying writing these ‘Apocalypse Survival’ posts, wakeriding, as I am, on the success of Max Brook’s “Zombie Survival Guide” and similar books. Brooks has pretty much put all his chips on ‘zombies’ being the form the future apocalypse takes — but what if it’s mutants, killer bees, rage virus, returning retilians overlords, ancient Mayan curses, flesh eating bacteria or bondage wear wastelanders a la Mad Max? Plans must be adjusted accordingly. Relying on a single source like Brooks for 100% of your post apocalypse planning needs will mean that unless he is right (and I’m not denying that he might be), using ‘Zombie Survival Guide’ as your only contingency plan might result in you fucking your future self!

I’ve already touched on “A good defense involves a strong offense” (weapons: part1) and “A good defense involves a good defense” (armor/fortifications: part 2).  I’m sure plenty more needs to be considered on both of those subjects; I’ve only scratched the surface.  Welcome to part 3, where I talk about your ‘bug out bag.’

Nods to Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” (excellent book; I’ll give it 5 out of 5 severed heads!) for introducing me to the concept of the ‘Bug Out Bag.’  Whitehead’s protagonist, “Mark Spitz” (post apocalypse, everyone has a nick-name; his is “Mark Spitz” because he doesn’t know how to swim) describes the ‘bug-out bag’ as a small cache of supplies that every survivor stashes somewhere known only to him/herself.  If the shit goes bad and your camp is overrun and it’s every man-woman-child for themselves against the undead, you can snag your bug-out bag when you are heading for the hills — it should contain a few important things to help you survive the next couple of days because, more than likely, when the time comes to bug out, the enemy won’t give you a chance to pack your shit and you will be on your own.

So, what belongs in YOUR bug-out bag? Here’s what’s (hopefully) going in mine without making it too big or heavy — I may have to make some hard choices once I gather all these items and find out my pile is too big to fit in my knapsack:

1) Pry bar: You don’t wanna go crazy with the tools, since they are heavy and clanky and bulky, but I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a small pry bar. It can help you open doors, windows, manhole covers, etc.  Plus, in a pinch, you can bust a skull if you have to.

2) Knife: You didn’t see this one coming?  I’d probably include a lock-blade or sheath knife AND something like a multi-tool.  I would want something with a can-opener on it in case you manage to loot some canned food. There is nothing more depressing than the idea of finding the last can of baked beans left on earth and being too weak with hunger to get it open.

2) Flashlight: OK, so I’m stating the obvious. But make sure it’s in there and has batteries and you can thank me later. I’ve got TWO in my car.  Yeah, I’m that paranoid.

3) First Aid Kit: See flashlight, above. In some cases, like apocalypse via contagion, it might not be much help, but it will at least keep a cut or a sprain from slowing you down too much. And, who knows, maybe if you douse that bite wound in hydrogen peroxide soon enough, you’ll at least get a +2 on your save versus ghoulification.  Worth a try, isn’t it?

4) Water and food: Especially water. If survival means being able to keep moving, clean water is a must.  Something to eat that’s lightweight and small, like granola bars and beef jerky, could help keep you going. Water purification tablets might not be a bad idea. I’m also gonna pack a spoon.

5) Matches/lighter: Yeah, I know that in THEORY one can ‘make fire’ by rubbing sticks together, but when I’m tired, cold and still mourning the death of civilization, I won’t be in the mood to play cave man. Maybe after a few weeks I’ll be ready to go full-on boyscout, but until then I want my instant fire source.

6) Poncho: Keeping yourself dry goes a long way towards keeping yourself warm.  Some warm clothes wouldn’t be bad either, but let’s not go crazy. I’m thinking olive drab or camo pattern instead of safety orange in case the future involves roving bands of cannibals who think I look like food.

7) mini-packs of Kleenex: OK, not a necessity, strictly speaking, but I find nothing interferes with my continued feeling of well being as much as an itchy butt.  If I’m suddenly out in the wild or unexpectedly trekking across the devastation, eventually I am going to have to go number 2. And afterwards, I will want to wipe. Clear your mind and your ass will feel better; clean your ass and your mind will be able to concentrate on more important stuff. Probably wouldn’t mind some toothpaste, floss and a toothbrush, either.

8) Cash-stash: Probably not going to help once the rest of the world figures out that ‘shit and fan have met,’ but, in those early hours, some cash-on-hand might help you bribe your way past checkpoints, convince others to part with needed supplies or make room for just one more on a boat, etc.  Besides, a few dead presidents don’t take up a lot of room and can serve as back-up TP or tinder. Paranoids and Glenn Beckeroids talk about the importance of having gold on hand for emergencies, but unless you think your end of the world scenario involves leprechauns, I wouldn’t bother. I wonder if cramming a few bags of Hanukka gelt into your bag would be worth it? They might look enough like Krugerrands to allow you to ‘pidgeon drop’ some greedy fool out of his bottled water, and, if all else fails, everyone likes chocolate.

9) Bug dope: Time was, they used to make a bug repellant lotion that came in little squeeze bottles.  I bet they still do.  I want at least one of those because I hate mosquitos that much.

10) Map and compass. Post electronic pulse and/or after the aliens have swept satellites from the sky, GPS devices and google maps will be useless… better get used to ‘grandpa’s GPS’ and start raiding the glove compartments of abandoned Monte Carlos and Galaxy 500s during your trek, looking for old fashioned paper maps that will at least let you see where the roads lead.  Of course, you may need to revise your maps as you go along (perhaps replacing some cities with big black blots that mean “crater of radioactive slag”), but that’s half the fun of the brave new world!

11) Gat: I’ve been debating the utility of a small handgun; maybe one of those cheap .380 semi-autos or similar that you could pack in a small dry-bag with a few magazines and a box of ammo vs a 9mm or similar.  This would be a spare weapon that live in the bug-out-bag, so, should I lose everything else, I would still have at least one sidearm.  Also very tempting is the Henry AR7 rifle — a collapsible 22lr rifle that disassembles and packs inside the waterproof plastic stock that doubles as a case for a total weight of 3.5 lbs unloaded. 

12) Rubber gloves, filter mask, hand sanitizer, soap, goggles, etc.: You can’t plan for every contingency, but even if our end time scenario is not a plague, once the world goes to shit and there are bodies in the streets, avoiding infection might not be a bad idea.  Goggles might be overkill — but eye protection of some kind plus a mask might not be amiss if you are dealing with enemies that explode like handgrenades of infected pus once you kill them (and I think a future of ‘exploding pus zombies’ are a distinct possibility).  Gotta keep contagion out of your own eyes, nose and mouth!

13) Transistor radio: Do they even make these any more? Once the grid goes down, cell phones are going to be useless.  If you have a car, you probably will have a radio, but when circumstances force you to hoof it, an old fashioned pocket radio with which you can (hopefully) pick up emergency broadcasts might not be a bad thing to have. Make sure it has an earphone jack and earphone; you don’t want to advertise your location to the infected when you are listening to those emergency broadcasts.

14) Walkie-talkies: How many movies have you seen where someone is in trouble and his/her companions remain blissfully unaware? $14.95 spent at K-Mart and a couple batteries solve this problem. Just remember to switch it off at the right moment so your homies don’t call you “just to say hello” while you are trying to sneak past that wandering monster.

15) Extra batteries. Why isn’t this #1?

16) Duct tape: Emergency repairs and bandages! 

17) Rope: You can always use a small coil of nylon rope.

I suppose there are more things that COULD go in there — fishing line and hooks might not be a bad idea (although, at the rate at which we are killing the oceans, there may be no fish in our future) and a small metal pot to boil water or eat out of, but I think you get the general idea.

What’s going into YOUR bug-out bag?

Improvised Apocalypse Arsenal Part 2: Self Defense

I’ve been musing more on the ‘Improvised Apocalypse Arsenal’ concept that I introduced on Saturday. I think I have more posts in me on the subject.  Sorry. 
Today I’d like to talk about ‘Self Defense.’  No, not ‘self defense’ as in having weapons with you — I would categorize that as ‘defense of self through self offense.’  When the shit comes down. whether it be ravenous undead, Mad Max type wastelanders armed with hand-made crossbows, feral children with tooth and nail or mutants with super powers, you are going to want something to protect yourself from harm — a barrier between you and danger that can be as big as a castle or as small as a shield improvised from a trash can lid.  Self protection becomes doubly important in an ‘infection’ scenario — when the bite of one zombie = eventual zombification, then taking pains not to get bitten seems a worthwhile investment.

It’s just a matter of time…

1) Don’t get out of the car: Is this good advice?  I don’t know.  I guess it depends. The good thing about the car is that you can lock yourself inside of it and drive away.  And maybe you’ll have some bottled water, road flares or a blanket in the trunk. But when the apocalypse comes (and come it will), the roads are going to be jammed with bumper-to-bumper vehicles, each containing a happy-meal for the undead, mutants or cannibals in the form of a commuter who is probably armed only with a smart phone and a coffee.  Easy pickings.
Also, most cars have a lot of glass, so, unless you are moving down the road at considerable speed, any determined adversary who can pick up a rock or other window smasher is going to eventually get you.  The car is also a crappy place to hide; anything taller than a schnauzer is going to see you trying to hunker down in the driver’s seat of your Corolla.  Be smart.  Know when to make a break and hoof it.  I suppose there are exceptions — if you have a helicopter instead of a car, you can thumb your nose at the proles stuck on the freeway below, but what goes up must eventually come down (and, if the apocalypse scenario is flying monkeys or fire breathing dragons, perhaps up in the air is the last place you want to be).
Max Brooks recommends vehicles like armored cars and the like, but good luck in getting your hands on one of those.  If you try to jack the dudes who work for the armored car company, they will just shoot you; end of your story, or maybe they will just smile and wave at you through the bullet proof glass as the rabid mole rats or whatever rip you apart.

Zombies: more persistent than Amway people.

2. Don’t go outside: Good advice? Again, it depends.  If you are shopping at ‘The Sunglasses Hut’ and suddenly the irradiated ghouls attack, unless you can lock down the whole mall immediately, get your ass out of there.  If the threat is outside and you are inside, that’s probably more good than bad — figure out where they are going to get in and either barricade or surrender indefensible parts of the territory.  But always leave yourself an exit! That upstairs bedroom might seem like a good place to hide, but if they are coming in the bedroom door can you go out the window?  Have an exit strategy.
 Also: how defensible and well supplied is this place you want to call home?  Shopping malls seem to be a movie favorite for zombie survival, but Hollywood has some peculiar ideas about the defensibility of a mall… too much glass and not enough moats and machine-gun nests for my taste. Most malls seem to be a good source for stylish clothing, designer purses and jewelry, but these items are going to be less useful than shotguns, iodine and canned beans, which, in my experience, are left for more prosaic shopping destinations to provide.  Some place like Wal-mart might be better, but those big box stores are also going to be ground zero for infection as panicking suburbanites pack in there, trying to grab all the toaster pastries and bottled water that they can fit into their mini-vans.
The last urban high school I taught in might have made a pretty good fortress.  The kitchen was provided with industrial sized cans of cling peaches and fruit cocktail. The pre-war building had thick walls and bars on the windows. The nurses office had at least some medical supplies. There might have even still been some dated supplies* in the fallout shelter. Best of all, it was a run-down place with an undesirable zipcode, so few people are going to contest you for it’s ownership.

3) Learn from the ancestors: Time was, our ancestors defended themselves by scampering up a tree.  And a tree still makes a good refuge… consider the dog and squirrel.  If dogs had hands instead of paws, squirrels would have been wiped out years ago.

4) Clothes make the man: We need to divide this into sub-categories:

Survival skills for post-collapse America!

4a) Hooray for the SCA: I never did the SCA thing, myself.  When I heard of it, I envisioned people in armor whacking each other with blunted weapons, which seemed to me like a very good way to train for many possible versions of the apocalypse. Unfortunately, most SCAers seem to spend most of their time wandering the Ren Faire in floppy hats, bodices and cloaks; garments that offer little or no protection from bites, claws or bullets and probably are impossible to run or climb a chain link fence in. If you an SCAer, leave the pirate costume in the closet and stick with the chain mail instead. Accessorize that battle armor with a decidedly non-period shotgun and replace the rattan sword with a machete or baseball bat. Armor will slow you down, however, so stay close to a vehicle in case you need to make a quick get away.

Dress for success

4b) Road Warrior: Leather motorcycle gear is probably a good choice – a nice compromise between protection and maintaining a decent movement rate. Stylish AND lots of zippered pockets for extra ammo, etc. Plus it makes you look like a tough guy… and, in case you dress for the apocalypse on a day when it fails to come about, you can just tell people that you are on your way to Sturgis. Accessorize with boots, leather gloves and helmet.  Leather won’t stop a bullet, but it will probably slow down the teeth and claws of the undead or offer at least some protection from the teeth of rabid doberman pinchers.

Kelley was a badass, no doubt.

4c: The Sporting Life: Football players wear shoulder pads that would make damn good protection while battling other post-apocalyptic warriors armed with chains, boards studded with nails, lead pipes, etc.  Lacrosse helmets offer great impact protection and high visibility — probably as good or better than those buckets most SCAers wear on their heads. Hockey offers shin guards, elbow protection, knee protection and gauntlets.  Baseball offers the ever important groin protection: preserve your ability to repopulate the earth! About the only thing I can’t see being that useful are those giant shin guards that Cricket players wear — maybe if the apocalypse involves low-to-the-ground attackers like prairie dogs.

4d: Full Metal Jacket: Modern body armor, made for the military and law enforcement, offers medieval style protection with less weight, easy on-easy off velcro fasteners PLUS it is the only garment that can have a chance of stopping a bullet.  Unfortunately, it is also expensive.
For those of us on a budget, I suppose there is the Ned Kelley “Hillbilly armor” option.  A few visits to the scrap yard and hardware store, a few hours with the blow torch and pop-rivet gun and maybe you, too, can walk through a hail of bullets like Kelley.

He who smelt it, dealt it.

4e: Hazmat: To be truly prepared, you gotta figure out a way of getting at least one of those Hazmat suits and masks into your life in case the future apocalypse involves contagion, chemical menace or similar. The problem is, of course, that unless you KNOW that the risk is and what form it will take (is a painter’s particle mask sufficient?  Or are you going to need the full body condom with bottled O2?) and you know exactly when to put your gear on, you are either limited to living your life like ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’ (i.e.: assume 24-7 that you are under attack from some sort of unseen chemical or biological menace and spend your life inside a giant zip-lock bag — sorry; I’d almost rather be dead than succumb to that level of paranoia) or hope for an early warning from the CDC. Perhaps a few filter masks and latex gloves in the glove compartment couldn’t hurt…

4f: Less is More: I envision that the future might belong to the fit and athletic practitioners of the art of parkour. Dressed, at most, in Adidas, jeans and a hoodie, they seem to effortlessly leap from parapet to fence to rooftop, always one step ahead and out of reach of whatever menace the apocalypse holds.  I envy them and wish them well; the future probably belongs to them.

*On a dare I once ate some “survival biscuits” that we found sealed in tin cans in an abandoned building. I think they dated back to when Nixon was in the Whitehouse. They were dry and tasteless; like Saltines without salt.

What’s in your Improvised Apocalypse Arsenal?

School of Hard Knocks

Last night I watched about 1/2 of ‘Battle Royale,’ a circa 2000 Japanese movie/novel that some say inspired the more highbrow novel, The Hunger Games. The basic premise is that in the near future, the school kids of Japan start to behave so badly that the adults decide to pass a ‘Battle Royale’ law in which classes of kids are chosen at random and dropped on an uninhabited island where they have to battle one another to the death.  Each student is given a bag that contains food, water, a map and one weapon. The weapon is chosen at random; it might be an Uzi or it might be a spork. In addition, the students are fitted with explosive collars and certain regions of the island will randomly be chosen to become “get out of here NOW or your head will explode” zones to keep the kids moving around. I don’t know how it all turned out because I was tired and I couldn’t bring myself to keep watching it — maybe I’ll finish it when I am less tired.  It’s not as unwatchable as some Japanese popular cinema, but the acting conventions of Japanese popular cinema are something I think I just don’t get. People are always convulsing with anger, fear or sadness which usually involves screaming through clenched teeth, doubling over like they have been hit in the stomach and having their eyes bug out… in short, they behave like cartoon characters.  This Gaijin just doesn’t get it and will leave it to the bloggers who are Japan-o-philes to explain.

The genius of having the kids get random weapons, however, is hard to ignore. Which made me want to wonder, with my morning coffee, about the question, “When the shit hits the fan (be it attack of space aliens, the rising of the disenfranchised classes, zombie outbreak, etc., take your pick), how are YOU going to defend yourself?”

1) Guns are the obvious choice, especially if you live in the US where there seem to be as many guns as people.  Unfortunately, unless you are a concealed carrier of weapons or in a job that gives ready access to guns (like law enforcement or working in ‘Firearms’ at Bass Pro Shop), you are only likely to have your guns with you if you know the shit is about to come down or you are at home (or wherever you keep your gun(s) if you have them).

My sidearm of choice would be my .38 Special revolver or a shotgun (only because I am familiar with these tools), but people who are into guns will probably have Glocks with 30 round magazines and semi-auto rifles illegally modified to class 3 status with 75+ round drum magazines, so my shootin’ irons are probably woefully outclassed and I’ll be dead in the first few minutes.

The Decider.

Speaking of gun porn, if one had to choose just one gun, you might want to go for the Kel-Tec shotgun. It features twin magazines that hold 6 shells each, so you could load one with buckshot and the other with slugs and then blast away, switching back and forth with buckshot for close range and slugs for further away.  Plus it looks like it’s from the future. Kel-tec says the ejection port is underneath so southpaws won’t have it ejecting spent shells into their face. $800.00 MSRP means it’s not the most expensive option, either. 

The good news is that if you live in the US, guns are cheap and easy to get, so you can easily add a .380 to your wardrobe, a pump shotgun to your hall closet and a 9mm to your nightstand.  The bad news is that if you live in the US, guns are cheap and easy to get, so when the shit goes down we will all probably be shooting each other.  We won’t have to wait for the zombies to kill us; our neighbors will probably shoot us because we look a little off or we were about to grab the last pack of Twinkies from the floor of the looted Wal-Mart.

2) The kitchen provides a lot of potential improvised weaponry. My first impulse is to grab a “chef’s knife” with as long a blade as I could find, perhaps 8″ or more.  I like the chef’s knife because it could be used to stab or slash and has a little more reach than the paring knife or cleaver. Since it’s made for chopping, the blade has a little more heft than some of the longer knives.  AVOID the wavy bladed bread knife.  It looks like it would hurt like hell (and it probably would if your enemy just stood there and let you saw at him) but the blade is usually too thin to stand up to living sinew and bone (which is a lot tougher than cooked meat).  Let some other fool take the bread-knife. Remember, although a lot of people show up in emergency rooms with cuts from bread knives every day, those wounds are always self inflicted by bagel eaters who are too lazy to get out a cutting board (yes, I have thought about this… wait, don’t look at me like that…).

Whacking someone with an iron skillet seem like a no-brainer (get it?), but the cast iron skillet has become a relic of a bygone era in many US kitchens, probably because you can’t just stick ’em in the dishwasher, so unless you are in the kitchen of a foodie or a southerner, the likelyhood of finding a plain old iron skillet is greatly reduced.  The problem with the iron skillet is that it is damned awkward to wave around… in order to do damage with it, you are going to need a lot of wind up for your swing, and the short handle combined with the big round pan makes it just too damn top heavy. These space-age material pots and pans usually have all the disadvantages of the iron skillet (awkward shape and you need a lot of swinging room) with none of the heft; I’d leave ’em on the shelf unless you really have no better options. Rolling pins seem like a good idea, but they are usually too light to give a good whack. I’d probably grab a meat tenderizer mallet instead, although, honestly, go for the chef’s knife if you can.

People in the movies often seem to throw hot water or coffee on an attacker, but, honestly, unless you standing right beside the stove and the liquid is REALLY fucking hot, you really can’t make this your battle plan.  It’s also  a one shot weapon — afterwards, you are just a guy holding an empty carafe and facing an enraged and wet opponent.

Be nice to the groundskeeper; maybe he’ll let you live.

3) The garden shed / storage area provides some very good options.  Baseball bats, axes/hatchets or a machete might be my first choice, but a shovel shouldn’t be underestimated. Erich Maria Remarque discussed the possibilities of the shovel as an effective hand-to-hand weapon in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (go for the throat with it!).

I’d take the hardwood ‘Louisville Slugger’ over those $100.00 aluminum bats simply because I remember seeing a kid in grade school take a whack at a phone pole with an aluminum bat and bending the thing in half… and he wasn’t that strong a kid. Remember that you can also use the bat as a baton in close quarters — a good poke in the gut with 3 feet of ash or hickory is going to slow most tough guys down, although you should swing for the head if it’s a zombie situation.

Axes or crowbars are also good for getting through doors, windows, etc., in a hurry when you don’t have a key.  Speaking of axes — why are there so many ‘fire axes’ in office buildings in movies?  I’ve been in hundreds of office buildings in real life and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fire axe just hanging on the wall, but in every movie it seems the hero is always breaking the glass and grabbing that bright red axe when he needs to do some chopping.  Fucking Hollywood bullshit is what that is.


Speaking of Hollywood, LEAVE the chainsaw in the garage for some Tobe Hooper fan-boy to take. Chainsaw injuries are horrific, but are, as far as I know, almost always self inflicted accidents.  The chainsaw is only dangerous when it is running… and while it is running it is so fucking noisy that you might as well tie bells all over yourself to tell the zombies, “Here comes dinner!”  If you switch it off, good luck in starting it when the shit hits the fan; your opponent will have chewed out your throat or stabbed you 100 times with a pointed stick before you can get it started.  I’m no Hercules but I can cut tree trunks lying on the ground all afternoon with a chainsaw, but when I have to reach out from my body to get the high branches, I’m exhausted in about ten minutes… imagine trying to hit a moving target with that thing?  And, if you are dealing with an infection situation, do you really want all that blood flying around?

I hope my little essay has helped you consider YOUR apocalypse plan.  Remember, we don’t know what form it will take or when it will come, but unless Murphy’s Law is wrong, we know it’s coming so BE PREPARED!

Look at this:

I was looking at the back endpaper of my DCC RPG book (published by Goodman Games) and just feasting my eyes on this work by Peter Mullen:

I know it’s going to make me sound like a complete suck-up, but Mullen is, in my opinion, the best artist working in art for RPGs today.  His pictures just blow me away with their dark humor and the way in which Mullen manages to squeeze 100 different stories into the one panel.  It reminds me of many of Hieronymous Bosch’s paintings:

When I was a kid, we had a lot of ‘picture books’ (many of which were pretty old, dating back to the 50s or earlier).  My favorites were the ones with drawings that were like ‘panoramas,’ broad views with dozens (or more) small dramas all taking place in one picture, so your eye can wander around and take in all the different interactions taking place within the single panel.  Like a ‘Where’s Waldo,” there was no ‘central theme’ or ‘focal point’ in these darwings.  The one panel is a collection of little vignettes; the visial equivalent of a puzzle with a lot of different pieces that all add up to a whole. 

In the case of Hogarth’s “Gin Lane” (below), it’s a social critique of what happens when gin is cheaper (and safer) than water, milk or tea.  Bosch (above) painted hell — some say he was crazy or hallucinating because of the ergot fungus; others claim that his paintings were filled with secret messages for fellow mwmbers of ‘mystery cults,’ still others say that many of the scenes and symbols had meanings that would have been more obvious to his contemporaries but have become less familiar to the modern viewer.  I just know that I like them.

Whenever I look at work like Mullen’s “Into the Frying Pan,” (top), I get discouraged and jealous.  Discouraged because I like looking at Mullen’s work more than my own and jealous because I’s love to be able to say that I drew/painted something like that. I’m trying to channel those feelings of envy in a more productive direction and allow that maybe my envy means that Mullen has raised the bar for me and it’s time to shake things up and challenge myself to do better.

Mob Rule

I was reading J.R. IV’s post, “In Case Anyone is Unclear,” over on his blog this morning. I wanted to comment there, but comments are disabled, so I’ll do it here.  

On the subject of ‘shit about to hit the fan’ over the easily offended  sensibilities of others, Raggi writes, “The presentation of something in a fictional space, no matter how it is presented, is not an endorsement of that thing in real life. Enjoying something in fiction (or enjoying fiction that contains something) does not mean that a person would enjoy that same thing in real life.”
I don’t know what ‘shit storms’ James is talking about (perhaps something on Google+ ?*), but I believe that reading (or writing) a book like Lolita does not make you a pedophile any more than singing the words of ‘The National Anthem’ makes you a patriot. 
Singing the national anthem might make other people THINK you must be a patriot, but people can (and do) say “I love my job/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/god/etc.” all the time without meaning it, so I don’t know why words alone fool anyone.  But public displays of ‘piety’ or ‘patriotism’ or ‘right thinking’ seem very important to people with self-promoting agendas… a fact I try to keep in mind whenever another lynch mob gathers to ‘punish’ someone for writing a book, drawing a picture or singing a song that others might find offensive. Behind every ‘obscenity’ trial one can eventually find a politician, district attorney, sheriff or public figure wannabe pandering to his/her base by throwing them the red meat of a crusade against perverts or the gays or the communists or whatever.  Behind every moral crusade one can probably find someone’s social ambition to be ‘king of the hill**” as well as a mob of followers who just enjoy reinforcing the peck order.  Fuck them all for intellectual and imaginative cowardice.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised that so many people who describe themselves as ‘gamers’ or ‘fantasy fans’ or claim to be interested in ‘games of the imagination’ have such a problem keeping fantasy and reality straight — look at the Carcosa flap and similar — but the more cynical part of my mind wonders if many of these folks just have an agenda of some sort or want to amuse themselves by stirring up shit and enjoying the hot flush of outrage that “someone else would write/draw/sing/etc. something like that!”  You would think after Paula Pulling and Bothered About D&D, the people who actually play (or played) D&D and knew how full of shit her claims were would be a little more wary of the ‘moral crusade.’  But riding the high horse in the moral crusade of the moment (or being a part of the angry mob) is too much fun for most people to give up, so I don’t expect the situation to change.
*I have a google+ account but haven’t taken the time to figure out how or why to use it.
**In the case of The OSR (or whatever it is being called today), the “hill” these people want to be king of is a particularly obscure bit of real estate, but sometimes the smaller the spoils, the more bitterly they fight for it.  Go figure.

Replacing Mind-Flayers and other I.P. protected monsters

I was doodling in the sketchbook this a.m. and came up with some sort of flying squid that was eating an off-market He-Man’s brains — something inspired by looking at too many old pulp sci-fi / horror magazine covers no doubt.

It occurs to me that this is how I might replace ‘I.P. protected’ monsters like ‘the mind flayer’ and others when I publish Mines of Khunmar eventually — plus it has an ‘Aldeboran’ vibe that I like.

I imagine this thing is capable of eating the victim’s brains and then using the brainless victim as a puppeteer uses a marionette.  Obvious ripoff of Wolverton’s Brain-Bats of Venus I guess… but nothing really feels original anymore, so why not just go with it?  Of course, it should have other cool powers as well.  Gone is the mind-flayer’s human body — but the mind flayer really didn’t ‘use’ the human-like body it had (other than for walking around and using it’s hands to open doors).  The ‘brain octopus’ (don’t have a good name for it yet) could travel around by crawling unless it has a ‘puppet’ — then it could just ride around and let the puppet do the walking.

While we are on the subject, since monsters like “The Displacer Beast” were obviously ripped by Gygax and company from an A.E. Van Vogt story (1)  how is it that Wizards now ‘owns’ it?  I mean, I guess Gygax (or someone at TSR) came up with the name ‘Displacer Beast’ — shouldn’t the monster itself belong to Van Vogt’s estate while Wizards owns the name ‘Displacer Beast’?

1) Wikipedia tells me it is called ‘Coeurl’ and appears in the story, “The Black Destroyer”, which also features a space ship called ‘The Beagle’.  I know ‘Beagle’ is a reference to the career of Charles Darwin, but didn’t a space ship called ‘The Beagle’ for the basis of some of the ‘Blackmoor’ adventures published by TSR (I’m thinking ‘City of the Gods’ and ‘Temple of the Frog’?)

Some Artists who ought to illustrate your next indie RPG product

No, I’m not posting this to flog my own pony… although I ought to at least provide a link to some of my own stuff here:

One of my complaints about the trend in OSR artwork is that most of it seems to be kind of ‘same-same’ to me (note that this is also a criticism I would apply to my own stuff). Too many things produced by the OSR community seems to be to make it look like it belongs in the circa 1978-1980 TSR catalog (right down to the fonts and page layout). I’d like to see more products try for different aesthetics. Please step away from the ‘Magic The Gathering’ inspired digital tablet art, or the goatees and spikes of the 3e era, or the ‘ready for the cover of the next Forgotten Realms novel’ of 4e or the line-by-line, pose-by-pose aping of what has been published before (yes, guilty as charged). And for god’s sake, NO MORE royalty free clip-art. I’m sick of seeing Romantic 19th century illustrations from some forgotten edition of Ivanhoe with stoic knights and weeping damsels in books that are supposed to be about ogres and trolls and fireballs blowing shit up. How about something new and different?

Sean Aaberg has done some work for Labyrinth Lord (notably the devils and demons in the ‘Advanced Edition Companion’). Check out his Flickr pages He also frequently contributes to ‘Eaten By Ducks.’ I love the bold lines and crazy shit going on; it’s got a Trampier meets Rat-Fink in a punk rock zine feel that doesn’t take itself too seriously. He is one prolific son-of-a-gun, making zines, posters, buttons, stickers, t-shirts, etc. When does he find time to sleep?

Fukitor” draws Hard R/X rated semi-pornographic, lurid, tasteless and horror-absurd comics which seem to center around beheading, torture, mutilation, satanism, sexploitation movie themes and other nastiness. Basically, it looks like everything that ‘Fuckus on the Family‘ thinks can go wrong with people letting their imaginations run too wild seems to be fair game to this guy. I don’t know if he has done any RPG work, but I think he seems like a natural fit for it.

Not for the faint of heart, and, needless to say, Not Safe For Work (unless you work someplace pretty unusual).

I’ve mentioned Skinner before, so I won’t do more than mention him today. Visit his site. That’s what I am talking about. If Max Beckmann had been born in Polynesia instead of Germany and done a lot of acid instead of serving in the First World War and studied under Jack Kirby instead of the German Impressionists it might have looked something like that. Or not. The guy sells paintings of wizards in pointy hats to art collectors. I’m sure he could do the cover of your next adventure.

Peter Mullen has done a lot of work for Swords & Wizardry, Goodman Games and others. I love and admire his unique work, with his goofy, desperate, skinny heroes, hallucinogenic monsters and creepy settings. All his pictures seem to tell a story, with figures often pointing at some unseen threat out of frame, critters ready to pounce from some unseen place and other madness. I love his line work and his sensibility. Some of the stuff has a real Peter Max vibe to it (in a good way) — simultaneously threatening and deceptively whimsical. If I was hiring artists to illustrate something Swords & Sorcerorish, his name would be on the top of my list.

OK, that is all for now. After this dose of inspiration, I need to get back to work.

Please add your favorites in the comments section — I’m always looking for new talent to steal from. Full disclosure: I don’t personally know any of these people (but I have traded emails with a few of them)… so there is nothing in this for me other than I think they do good work. And if you hire any of these guys to illustrate your next publication, I won’t charge a finder’s fee.

Videodrome (1983)

In David Cronenberg’s film, Videodrome (1983), an ethically challenged cable news station manager is becoming addicted to snuff film videos, and, while watching them and fondling a Walther PPK pistol (James Bond’s gun), he discovers that a vaginal-like slot has appeared in his stomach. So he does what any reasonable person would do in that situation — he begins to nuzzle the strange opening with the barrel of his weapon, finally jamming the whole pistol and hand in there (which seems to be either painful or orgasmic)… and losing his pistol when his stomach vagina suddenly dissapears.

Given that he has made ‘body horror’ films like Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch and Videodrome, I wonder if Cronenberg’s mother read things like Kafka’s Metamorphosis to him when he was in utero.

Despite the datedness of some of the technology (pirate video involving Betamax tapes and cable scramblers), the movie was great. The wikipedia entry calls it “techno-surrealist” (which is pretty apt) and it’s interesting to try and go back to when “cyborgism” and William Gibson techno novels were still new concepts. The paranoia in this film would make Phillip K. Dick proud. Debbie Harry is great as a seductress/masochist and there was a lot of wierd shit in it, which allowed me to forgive the clunky dialogue. Plus there is an exploding hand that blows a perfectly timed escape hole in the back wall of a store that is like a cartoon — funny and wierd. The protagonist escapes through the hole into a street full of people who are ignoring the fact that a wall just exploded and a dude with a vagina in his stomach came running out. Perhaps that kind of stuff happens pretty often in Toronto. James Woods stars as the stomach-vaginaed Max Renn.