I had a very peculiar dream last night. I’m normally a pretty sound sleeper, and thus don’t usually remember my dreams very well, but this one impressed itself on my brain… and I think I remember it vividly because I was having it right before I woke up. Now, I’m not a big one for dream interpretation. I subscribe to Scrooge’s theory that dreams are more of an indication of restless sleep than anything else (“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” said Scrooge to Marley in ‘A Christmas Carol.’). Perhaps dreams are just a series of images, sounds and sensations flashing through our sleeping brains and we string them together into some sort of narrative afterwards, creating a pattern out of the random firing of mental pistons. In any case, dreams seem like the gift of the subconscious. I enjoy their illogic.
Last night’s dream started with me attempting to attend some sort of medieval recreation event. No, I’m not a re-enactor of any sort, so this didn’t seem like something I would do — but as far as I remember, that was the scenario. In order to join the event, one had to sign up at various tables, fill out forms and pay $127.00 (my dreams are very reasonably priced!). For this price, we were guaranteed a chance to ‘live life as a medieval person might have.’ We would start off as peasants, working on a farm, and then we would be taught to make armor and weapons and be allowed to live as knights. Near the end of the event, we would take part in a battle. And the place was run a bit like a haunted house or an assembly line— while the second group was experiencing ‘village life,’ the first group would be making their armor and becoming knights. It wasn’t really clear to me how long the process of going from peasant to knight took — I was under the general impression it took about an afternoon, but it was a dream, so everything was kind of fuzzy.
The ‘sign up’ event was fairly complicated and required that one fill out several forms at different stations. All of this took place in a large, convention-center like building with cast concrete walls, deep red carpet and indirect lighting. I was supposed to experience medieval life with some friends (they were non-specific friends — this was a dream, after all) but got separated from them in registration. Young kids kept getting in line ahead of me and when it was their turn to deal with whatever person we were all standing in line to speak to, they would just stand with their mouths open, paralyzed with indecision, further gumming up the process.
I finally got through the lines and was given my peasant’s smock and a straw hat which was much too small for my head and looked too much like a cowboy hat to convince me it was properly ‘medieval.’ I asked the costumer if there were any larger hats and she shook her head. I got dressed and hurried off to hope to join up with my group of fellow peasants. I don’t know what I did with my street clothes. Perhaps I left them on the floor of the convention center.
I exited the convention hall and found myself outdoors, in an area where participants who were dressed as knights milled about in improbable armor. One particularly memorable specimen was wearing plate armor that looked like it had been made of triangular bits of metal bolted together to form a giant metal egg that protected the body and articulated arm and leg coverings that looked like sections of stove pipe. Others had some form of scale armor that looked like randomly shaped metal plaques bolted to a coat. There were tents everywhere. To one side, other students of the medieval experience labored at anvils with hammers, creating their weapons and armor so they could join the ranks of knighthood. In the distance I could see pennants flapping in the breeze and hear trumpets blaring as two large groups of ‘knights’ approached each other with weapons in hand — obviously these were participants who were engaging in their final event; the grand battle that was supposed to be the capstone of the medieval re-enactment. I was a mere peon amid these powerful nobles, however, and wanted to get among my own kind. I hurried off to join the peasants.
I could see the ‘village’ from across a field and ran towards it. As I approached, it became obvious that the village was neither as large nor as impressive as it first appeared. While the buildings looked correct from a distance, as I got closer I could see that they were made from cast concrete and plywood rather than cut stone and wattle-and-daub. They were also sized incorrectly; more like children’s play houses than full sized dwellings. Unfortunately, I had approached them from the wrong side and a pond lay between me and the village. Rather than waste time going around it, I hiked up my smock and began to wade through the pond, heading towards an inviting looking stairway at the water’s edge that led into a monastery complete with a concrete cloister and some decidedly non-period looking iron railings that looked straight out of The Home Depot.
The water was deeper than I thought and soon I was swimming the pond/moat. I reached the iron railing and managed to grab it but suddenly I was exhausted. Try as I might, I just couldn’t haul myself out of the water; it held me in place like glue or I was suddenly afflicted with weakness. I could hear my fellow peasants within the village and monastery, talking to each other, but I couldn’t move a muscle. Perhaps this was because I was waking up. I found myself in my bedroom, in my bed. “What a strange dream,” I thought as I awoke.
OK, on Sunday I got back from Gen Con where I was a guest of Goodman Games — I had never been to a Con before (with the exception of walking into U-Con in Ann Arbor, playing one game and then leaving — I also went to another Con years ago and showed by art portfolio to a couple of publishers, but I had forgotten all about that until I sat down to write this). When I walked into GenCon, I was a bit overwhelmed — so much to see, so many people to meet. I’m not going to make a list for fear of leaving some people off of it… but I never imagined that any event could be that big. It was a bit overwhelming but the Goodman crew was a group of the nicest people you will ever meet and they made me feel very welcome. Lots of people came by to shake my hand and ask me to sign their books, which was really quite flattering. And Harley Stroh ran a con event where players ran a series of 0-level player characters through a funnel and the players who survived the greatest number of encounters with a sinle 0 level cheese maker, gong farmer or stable boy (or stable girl, I guess), got a chance to win a trophy. There were 3 trophies (I wish I took a photo — they looked great) with a statue of a “grave digger” in gold, bronze or rusted iron… and 3 players all tied for 1st with an incredible 8 survivals each… so they had a ‘roll off’ to decide who left with which trophy.
I didn’t get to play much of anything — I arrived late Friday because of work and other issues, worked in the booth Saturday, ate dinner and crashed, came back Sunday morning for the award ceremony and then had to roll back to Michigan aroun noon. I’m normally pretty reclusive – I don’t like crowds and didn’t think I would like cons but everyone was so fucking nice I would go back in a heartbeat. I got halfway back to Michigan before I realized that I had never made it down to Doug Kovac’s art exhibit — so I am going to have to go back I guess.
There were a lot of people dressed up as Anime characters that I didn’t know (I would describe most of them as ‘Dragonballz or others’ since Dragonballz is the only Anime name I know) and people dressed up as superheroes and a lot of people walking around with boxes on their heads (it took me a while to figure out these were ‘Minecraft’ people) as well as all kinds of other costumes… a lot of pirates, people who looked like they were going to or coming from a rave, women (and men) in corsets and kilts, people in head-to toe spandex and people wearing just a few thongs, scraps of fur and beads, stormtroopers (the Star Wars kind), robots, cartoon characters and other creatures. I saw (but was too intimidated to talk to) Will Wheaton — he has a really cool tattoo of an octopus on his arm. Mostly it was hard to get around because there were SO MANY PEOPLE there.
We finally got back from our 2 weeks in Portugal. We had an excellent time but I am still catching up on sleep. We spent time in Lisboa, Sintra, Ericerea, Evaro, Coimbra and Porto — not enough time in any one place, but we only had two weeks. There was so much to do, but I think my favorite thing was visiting Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra. All of Portugal is great — the people are great, the food is great, and there is a castle on every hill and a fantastic looking church down every narrow, crooked street, but the Quinta Da Regularia was really weird and fun.
The Quinta was built in the early 1900s by some millionaires with all sorts of strange ideas about alchemy, the masons, astrology and I don’t know what else. They were also probably pretty devout Catholics since they built a really fancy chapel on the property. The property is fairly large and wooded, but filled with small paths, gardens, caves, grottoes, amphitheaters, etc. I get the impression that the place was constructed as a ‘symbolic artwork’ that you were supposed to walk through, by passing through certain passages and tunnels, you were suppose to symbolize the transmutation of lead into gold via alchemy (or something like that). There were tunnels and grottoes everywhere, and a really elaborate ‘palace’ house, extensive gardens and even some secret stone doors.
There are towers like this one (above) scattered all over the property. While they provide negligible defensive value, you can climb up ’em and look around. The place is such a maze it’s really hard to get a sense of how big it is.
You can climb up the towers via tiny little staircases that might be a problem if you are a ginormous fatty — while walking the whole Quinta is not particularly hard exercise, if you can’t walk 100 paces without stopping for a rest, it will kill you and they will have a really hard time getting your body out because some of the places are pretty tight.
Once you climb up one of these many towers that are dotted all over the landscape, you will probably see something like this (above). Like all of Sintra, it’s on a hillside and the builders added paths, streams, walls, statues, gardens, etc. You can walk 10 or 20 feet and discover a new grotto or path or statue. It’s fun to just explore.
Here Annie is opening one of the three different stone ‘secret doors’ we found (above photo). You have to be pretty strong to open them; Annie keeps herself fit and is up to the task. The stone doors lead to tunnels, staircases and passages (which are pretty fantastic but I didn’t get a lot of photos because they are really dark inside). Some of the tunnels terminate in one of two ‘wells’ that are deep pits with spiral stairs that curl around the shaft so you can climb up and look down or down and look up. Like this:
There’s really so much more, and these crappy photos don’t do it justice — after a while I just stopped bothering to take pictures because they really didn’t give a good sense of the place and I just wanted to keep looking and experiencing it rather than trying to figure out how to take pictures of it. But a lot of Portugal was like that.
This map probably give a better idea of how elaborate and fantastic this place is:
|Branzoll Castle in N. Italy; the ‘real life’ Castle Blackmoor|
Apparently, Arneson was a bit burned out on the whole Napoleonics/historical battles thing. He wrote that he spent a few days reading Conan novels, eating popcorn and watching monster movies and came up with the idea of a fantasy campaign with wizards, fighters, etc., where everyone controlled just one guy rather than an army. This was apparently inspired by David Wesley’s famous ‘Braunstein’ game. I think they used Gygax & Keogh’s “Chainmail” rules as the basics and expanded from there.
|One of Arneson’s original maps from the First Fantasy Campaign book.|
Arneson and his friends also ran ‘fantasy’ game versions of the battles they had played in Napoleonics, substituting orcs, elves, dragons and wizards for artillery, cavalry and grenadiers. In this domain level game, the rules were expanded to include allowing players who raise armies and attack the castles of other players. In order to build castles and hire armies, the players needed money. One way of getting money was to ‘improve’ your kingdom. Arneson had guidelines that a road cost x number of gold per mile, and inn cost y, etc. If you built roads and inns and canals and towns, you could attract traders and craftsmen and villagers who could be taxed and allow you (the player) to gather taxes and raise an army, build castles, etc. It was like a computer game like ‘Stronghold,’ but played exclusively with pencil, paper, maps, words, dice and minis rather than the computer. The in-game accumulation of gold, then, was a means of allowing players to move from being adventurers scrapping around in dungeons to being generals and conquerors (which may have led to the idea that ‘gold’ should equate experience points — in the FFC, Arneson says he gave XP for gold spent in various fashions rather than just accumulated; players could trade XP for gold by spending it on “wine, women and song,” or on expensive hobbies like collecting art or exotic animals).
|One of the Lords of Oom|
Thule (also spelled Thool) lies just a short boat-ride across the Dunsany Sea (followed by a long hike across Ghent) although even the seasoned traveller would be better served by another destination. The Thulian aristocracy consider outsiders (and the common class of Thule itself) as the inhabitants of The Vales consider cattle: suitable for use as needed or as they see fit.
In order to understand Thule, one must understand the Thulian caste system. At the top, reside the ‘Lords of Oom.’ The Lords are seldom (if ever) seen by outsiders; most common Thulians have probably never seen one either. Their bodies are small and weak, but their heads and brains are enormous (and the Lords are reputed to have tremendous mysterious powers, including the ability to command unquestioning obedience from their followers). Whether or not the Lords of Oom are (or once were) human is unknown.
Underneath the Lords are the Priests of Oom. Every child born in Thule is examined shortly after birth by the Priests and tested; those who fulfill certain qualifications are taken from their biological parents and turned over to either the priest caste or the warrior caste, depending upon the nature of their perceived talents. If the child is selected for the priest caste (a very rare event), they will be placed in a special academy where only a small number will actually survive to graduate. These Priests of Oom emerge as hairless, androgynous beings. They apparently communicate with The Lords of Oom through the power of thought along and it is rumored that what the priests see and know is instantly seen and known by their masters. The priests can be recognized by their white robes, hairless heads and rods of office.
The warrior caste includes both common soldiers and other functionaries (such as the merchants who purchase goods not available in Oom and slaves). The warrior caste is noted for their fanaticism; any member of this caste lacking the appropriate zeal for his or her duties can count on joining the chained wretches being dragged to Oom Ambar for sacrifice or worse.
At the bottom of the caste system reside the common Thulians. Practitioners of skilled trades are considered slightly more valuable than common laborers, but these wretches apparently live and die at the pleasure of their masters. The average common Thulian is a wretched creature; most probably illiterate, and, if a female, constantly preganant. Their lives are short, brutal and unpleasant. Visitors to Thule will find no diverting local festivals, interesting cuisine, enjoyable folk music or dance traditions or other examples of local culture since the common Thulian who shows any interest in any subject other than labor is clapped into irons and dragged off by the warrior caste.
A description of the inhabitants of Thule would not be complete unless one also mentioned the moorlocks. These human-like creatures reside under the capital city of Thule and also, perhaps, in the tunnels under the mountains. Where they come from or what their purpose might be is unknown. The moorlocks are bestial, shaggy hominids capable of tool use who apparently love the taste of human flesh. The priests and warriors may or may not have any influence over them, but since the moorlocks fear sunlight, they hunt at night, making nocturnal strolls in the capital of Thule a very bad idea.
The capital of Thule is Oom Ambar, a city seldom visited by common Thulians or outsiders (and most visitors apparently tend to be of the unwilling sort; tales tell of great slave caravans dragging hordes of unfortunates into the tunnels that lead to the city proper). Oom Ambar itself is in a small valley ringed by mountains. Most gain entrance through the well guarded tunnels under the mountains (although crossing the mountains themselves on foot is probably not entirely impossible, this writer has yet to hear of anyone having successfully done so). The city is reportedly neither interesting nor picturesque. In the center is the great ziggurat on which the Lords of Oom perform their mysterious rites. The slave caravans entering the city normally take their miserable wares direct to this ziggurat where those unfortunates are never seen again. Tunnels under the ziggurat are the probable final destination, but whether these slaves labor, are sacrificed or put to some other fate is unknown. The ziggurat is surrounded by barracks for the guards and structures used by the warrior caste. Surrounding that are the slums and workshops of the lower castes. Most of the structures are unadorned and utilitarian in nature. There are no museums or interesting bazaars; goods are distributed by members of the warrior caste as directed by the priest caste.
(Illustration of ‘The Super Brain’ courtesy of Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blog; one of the best sources of scans of old comics on the web that I have been lucky enough to find)
|Well stocked survival shelter!|
The first problem with the most obvious plan is that everyone else will have thought of it, too. Wal Mart, Krogers and Target are going to be busier than they have been on any black Friday, and it’s not going to be polite shoppers respecting the one-to-a-customer and first-come-first-served rules. It’s going to be a bloodbath, and, if the Zero-day scenario we are thinking of involves infection or zombification or rage virus, the middle of a crowd of angry and possibly infected shoppers is the last place you want to be. Anyone else remember “The Day After” movie from 1983? This film followed a handful of people around Lawrence, Kansas just before, during and after the bombs drop. The one scene that sticks out in my mind as unintentionally hilarious was the part where people are frantically shopping at the local grocery store and the cashiers and baggers ringing up and bagging as fast as they could as people buy up all the batteries and Frankenberry. I don’t know about you, but if I was a teen age grocery bagger, I would tell Mr. Whipple to fuck himself and start looting the liquor aisle. When you see people trampling a store employee to death during a ‘Black Friday’ Christmas sale, it’s doubtful that they are going to patiently wait in line when they think bombs are going to start dropping.
Hopefully you have enough shit at home to can get you through the first few days or weeks and don’t even have to set foot in the stores on Zero day. I don’t think bottled water goes bad; buy a couple of cases RIGHT NOW and stash them somewhere where you won’t be tempted to deplete your chances of survival every time you come back thirsty from a jog or a bike ride. Maybe put up some canned food and other shit as well. And aren’t all Mormons supposed to keep a stash of emergency food at home? Mitt and his pals are going to be sitting pretty when zero-day happens.
OK, but what happens when the canned food runs out or those who have control of the existing stockpiles refuse to share? I suppose you could go all ‘Fallout 3’ on their asses and grab your hunting rifle and Pip boy and try to pick-em-off one by one — good luck with that idea. Here are some alternatives, presented in no particular order:
1) Gretel the Dog: I have a dog that has (no shit) killed about 100+ squirrels over the course of a couple of years. She’s a fast and fierce Chow/Retriever mix who, at 80 lbs, is all muscle. Her secret is that she will chase the squirrel into an isolated tree and then just bark at it with her really loud, hoarse bark and the squirrels (usually) lose their shit and decide to try to jump to another tree rather than just waiting the dog out. When they miss their jump because they are scared shitless over the strength and volume of her bark, she grabs them with the jaws of death and it is game over. One morning, the ‘squirrel killer’ joyfully practiced her deadly trade in full view of our neighbors who were trying to enjoy a brunch with some elderly relatives, so we decided to end the ‘dog versus squirrel’ gladiator show. Now we let the slow dog out first. The slow dog chases the squirrels away before killer can come out.
4) Canada Geese: They are all over the place. You can probably hunt them with your car if you don’t have a shotgun. We also get a few wild turkeys in my part of the state, although both the turkeys and the geese are MEAN. Some of the turkeys took out a dude who was jogging in the woods near my house. The turkeys flew at his face, claws extended, and he went down and broke his arm. Had this been a real post apocalyptic situation, he would have been coyote food in a few days.
5) Foraging: I know a couple of plants that are edible, but I don’t know how long I would live eating only boiled nettles, gooseberries, purslain, wild onions and cattails. In our foodless future, the national parks will probably be littered with the corpses of amature foragers who couldn’t tell the difference between morels and fly agaric. I’d suggest getting a good book with good illustrations, but I took one of these ‘natural food guides’ out on the trail and then looked at the mushrooms growing along the side of the path, carefully comparing them to the pictures and descriptions and still had no idea if the fungus I was looking at was going to be delicious with butter OR was going to kill me in less than 30 minutes if I ate it… so I went back home and opened a can of Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.
6) Poor Man’s Lobster: I’m talking ‘Arthropods!’ Beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and similar bugs may be disgusting to you now, but just wait till you are hungry enough! True story: I once met a guy from South Africa who told me that he was really grossed out by the sight of people eating lobsters and shrimp… even though, back in the homeland, he and his family ate termites. I asked him why the shrimp and the lobster grossed him out, and he replied, “They look like bugs!” I replied that termites looked like bugs, too, and he aswered that he knew his disgust was illogical, but he had never seen anyone eat lobster or shrimp until he was in his late teens and old enough to travel, whereas he had been eating termites all his life… so termites were the bugs he was used to eating, whereas lobsters were just gross — especially when he saw them scuttling around in the tanks at the grocery store. How long will it take hungry Americans to look forward to a meal of beetles or grubs?
Yesterday the section of water main under our yard exploded and water came gurgling up out of the ground. You can see ‘old faithful’ there, under the DANGER orange stripey thing that the Water Department put over it in lieu of a repair. To the right of it are the remains of our tomato patch. We were told that the utility would soon bring in back hoes, ditch witches, trench wenches, dirt flirts and other earth moving gear and tear some shit up and the tomato garden was right in the way. I tried removing the fencing and stakes carefully but is soon became apparent that the tomato plants were fucked… so I just tore it all out, apologizing to the plants as I did so. We now have a big bucket of green tomatoes. Hopefully the deer and rabbits will eat what remains before the water company arrives and grinds.
Curiously enough, even though the water is geysering out of the ground, our water still works. Go figure. The one thing I am thankful for is that the break is clearly on the outside of my watermeter. I’d hate to be paying for those thousands of gallons of wasted water.
My neighbor explained how the repairs will progress since this happened in his front yard a few years before we moved in. “First they will shut off the water and tear up the ground and determine that the only part of the main that requires replacement is the part that broke. They will replace that little bit and turn the water back on and, almost immeadiately, the rest of the pipe will disintigrate under the increased pressure. They will then turn off the water again, tear up the rest of your yard and replace the rest of the pipe.” Sounds about right.
Luckily for us, we are slightly uphill from the neighbors and their front yard is now a muddy lake.
Update: The pipe is fixed and part of the yard looks like someone had a tractor pull in it. The former tomato plot is 100% gone so I don’t have to feel bad about fucking up the plants. I guess the grass will go back, but I’m pretty uninterested in having a quality lawn. Really, it’s just a place for our dogs to take a piss.
An MP of the Independence Party in Iceland has had a 30 ton boulder relocated to protect it because the boulder is home to several generations of elves. He decided to move the boulder after a 2010 accident in proximity to the rock left him unharmed due to elven intervention and he realized a future expansion of the road would disturb the location. I assume that since it is Iceland, those are metric tons. Metric tons are slightly
smaller larger than US tons, but that is still a fucking heavy boulder. I’m sure the MP is hoping to have the elf vote all sewn up in future elections.
As the MP, Arne Johnsen, explains it, “I had Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, a specialist in the affairs of elves from Álfagarðurinn in Hellisgerði, Hafnarfjörður, to come look at the boulder with me,” recollected Árni. “She said it was incredible, that she had never met three generations of elves in the same boulder before.” The article goes on to state the measures taken to make sure that the elves will be happy in their new location.
I don’t know what part of this story makes me happier — that Iceland has MPs who care enough about keeping the elves happy to move gigantic boulders from one island to another, or that ‘specialist in the affairs of elves’ is a job title there. More on elf expertise and the boulder here… including pictures of the elf home (but none of the elves, unfortunately). That this degree of whimsy is seemingly publically accepted makes me want to move to Iceland.
What if the parody of a song is better than the song it emulates? Like this one:
I don’t know who the intended audience of ‘Horrible Histories’ are; are they old enough to have even heard of Adam and the Ants? What happened to Adam Ant, anyway? Last time I remember seeing him, he was shilling Zima and Honda scooters.
Raise your hand if you thought ‘Adam Ant’ was a reference to the metal that Drow swords were made from rather than a synonym for ‘determined.’
I heard about “Your blog is an Eighties Zine” from Zhu: http://realmofzhu.blogspot.com who had heard about it from someone else. The idea is simple: Make the cover of an ’80s’ style zine, such as you would have put together yourself and xeroxed for distribution, but name it after your blog and put the titles of your last 5 posts on your cover. In the 80s I made some ‘zines’ and flyers and stickers for a band I was in at the copy shop, but I never made a ‘gaming’ zine. If I had, it might have looked something like this:
The stuff I made in the 80s for music looked something like this (that’s the cover of a record the band made, but I did the art, and, if I remember right, the typography. Don’t blame me for the name; I wanted to name the band, “Meat Glue.”):