Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WNW: I refuse to apologize for this

Look, I think it's funny, and I've been having a crappy week with multiple visits to the dentist, so if I have to suffer then so do you.

You've been Rickrolled with Teen Spirit.





I actually like this. Nirvana always struck me as pretentiously emo, even before emo was in vogue. And both the music and video meld together surprisingly well. Epic-level taking the piss, IMO.

You can download the MP3 of the song here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Plutomancer

The Plutomancer

Tangible rewards in the form of money are staples of dungeon adventuring, yet sometimes extracting those riches is a herculean task. Likewise, a struggling dungeon delver is often frustrated by his inability to sell his hard-won gains at anything above a tenth of their value. The solution to both of these conundrums is the Plutomancer.

Whether a cleric in service to a god whose portfolio involves greed, commerce, or thievery, or a mage who exemplifies the classic struggle to turn lead to gold, the Plutomancer is a welcome addition to any party by the simple fact that he acts as a force multiplier for looting.

[Please note this Prestige Class uses Pathfinder RPG rules and not D&D 3.5]


Requirements
To qualify to become a Plutomancer, a character must fulfill all the following criteria:
Skills: Craft: Alchemy 8 ranks, Appraise 5 ranks.
Feats: Skill Focus (Appraise).
Spells: Ability to cast Stone Shape and at least one other transmutation spell of 3rd level or higher.


Class Skills
The Plutomancer's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Appraise (Int), Bluff (Cha), Craft (all skills taken individually) (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Knowledge (all skills taken individually) (Int), Linguistics (Int), Perception (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Spellcraft (Int), and Use Magic Device (Cha).
Skill Ranks Per Level: 2 + Int modifier.


Class Features

All of the following are Class Features of the Plutomancer prestige class.
Hit Die: d6.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Plutomancers gain no proficiency with any weapon or armor.
Base Attack Bonus: Poor.
Save Progression: As per Wizard.
Spells per Day/Spells Known: When a new Plutomancer level is gained, the character gains new spells per day (and spells known, if applicable) as if she had also gained a level in a spellcasting class she belonged to before she added the prestige class. She does not, however, gain any other benefit a character of that class would have gained. This essentially means that she adds her Plutomancer levels to the level of some other spellcasting class she has, and then determines spells per day, spells known, and caster level accordingly.


Abilities

Level 1
Bling (Ex): Spells give more expensive-seeming results. Create Food and Water will make a sumptuous feast with fine wine; Mage Armor garbs the caster in finery. This is an Illusionary effect.
Expert Haggler (Ex): The character gains a Filthy Lucre bonus to Appraise and Diplomacy skill checks equal to her Plutomancer level. (See Complete Adventurer, p. 98, for rules on using Diplomacy to haggle.)
Mind On Your Money (Ex):
The character gains a Filthy Lucre bonus equal to his Plutomancer level to Perception skill checks for finding treasure or detecting someone stealing from him.

Level 2
Moneychanger (Sp): A number of times per day equal to her level in this class, a Plutomancer may transmute money into other forms of money (for example, 4000 copper coins become 4 platinum coins; useful for hauling away a dragon hoard). Any amount of coins may be transmuted in this manner, but they must all be contiguous. The coins retain all other characteristics (size, weight, portrait) of their country of origin; however, a successful Forgery skill check will change these into whatever the Plutomancer desires (another country, or even a wholly original design.) This is a Spell-Like Ability.

Level 3
Pawnbroker (Sp): Once per day, a Plutomancer can convert up to (100 pounds/caster level) of non-living objects into their worth in gold coins, as determined by an Appraisal skill check (magical items get a saving throw; living items and artifacts are unaffected). Note that this is worth and not weight; even a ton of stone is still only worth 1 gold.
Flesh to Gold (Sp): As Flesh to Stone but there are veins of gold worth 300 gp per Plutomancer level in the statue. This ability may be used only once per week.



Special thanks to Mxyzplk for helping me nail down the mechanics and suggesting level abilities, and to Shawn Sage for helping with balance and being a sounding board.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Horses, mouths, and gift-looking

The Good: I went to the dentist yesterday and got my missing crown/filling/thing repaired. It was the least traumatic dental experience I've had, which is surprising. Dentist was surprisingly gentle and reassuring, and let me listen to music on my MP3 player. This relaxed me immensely.

The Bad: It cost $160 because I have no health insurance. I had to beg my mother to pay for it. Which she did, and didn't give me grief over it, but it stings my pride anyway.

The Ugly: The dentist found lots more decay in my mouth. This is due to not having had dental or health coverage since 2003. Things are only going to get more painful and expensive from this point forth.

The Blah: Still sorta tired and off-schedule. Not sure if this is related to tension from the appointment yesterday or not, but I want to sleep constantly. Posting may be erratic for a while.

Friday, July 17, 2009

These are neat (Z Kit)

Ah, you thought I was done posting about the Z Kit, didn't you? No, a Z Kit is never truly finished; it just reaches a point of final readiness from whence you can constantly upgrade and improve as need, finance, and circumstance dictate. As an example, here are two things I have recently found and added to my kit.

1). WD-40 No-Mess Pen
Because it's always handy to have an anti-corrosion universal lubricant around, and not only is it small enough to keep in a purse or a backpack, it's also not a pressurized aerosol. (It's more like a felt-tip pen.) This is very, very important, because aerosol products tend to go boom if they get too hot, and I frequently leave my kit in the car when I don't feel like hauling it inside a store. Also, aerosols tend to lose their fizz over time. This is a very good thing to have, with lots of uses, negligible weight, and only costs a few dollars. Weirdly, I couldn't find this at my local supermarket or discount store; I had to go a hardware store to get it, and it was lurking in the "impulse purchase" section near the register instead of with the rest of the lubricants.




2) Solar-Powered Water Bottle Cap
This is pretty much the embodiment of the Z Kit philosophy: For zero extra space and practically no weight gain, you turn a water bottle into a lantern. You gain function AND it requires no batteries. Fill it up, turn it on, and the diffraction of water scatters the light so that you have a lantern. Brilliant!

As much as I love ThinkGeek, you can buy it for $3 less from GoFASTandLIGHT.com.


Have you seen any cool new gadgets that deserve a place in my Z Kit? Let me know!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nine While Nine

Everyone has heard of the Rule of Threes, and although which rule is open to debate, most peoples' thoughts will turn to the belief that disasters and/or celebrity deaths happen in triplicate. Regardless, three is a very powerful number, mathematically, scientifically, and mystically.

See what I did there? I used the Writing Rule of Three to enforce my point. Orators and rhetoricians have used threes to great effect:
  • "Never, never, never give up." -- Winston Churchill
  • "Read my lips: No New Taxes" -- George H.W. Bush (special double emphasis version)
  • "If today I stand here as a revolutionary, it is as a revolutionary against the Revolution." -- Adolph Hitler
(Note to contextualists: I'm not suggesting anything political by listing Churchill, Bush, and Hitler in the same paragraph. These were simply the first that came to my mind.)

Threes are very popular, and very powerful. So much so that a 2nd Edition AD&D game setting called Planescape created a world where the rule became the law, and then expanded upon this by making two other laws, thus forming a perfect triad of cosmological law:
  1. The first principle, the Rule-of-Three, says simply that things tend to happen in threes. The principles which govern the planes are themselves subject to this rule.
  2. The second principle is the Unity of Rings, and notes that many things on the planes are circular, coming back around to where they started. This is true geographically as well as philosophically
  3. The third principle is the Center of All, and states that there is a center of everything — or, rather, wherever a person happens to be is the center of the multiverse... from their own perspective, at least. As most planes are functionally infinite, disproving anyone's centricity would be impossible. In Planescape, this is meant philosophically just as much as it is meant in terms of multiversal geography.
A great deal of this philosophy carried over into, as you might expect, Third Edition D&D.
  1. Saving Throws: Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.
  2. Base Attack Bonus: Good, Average, Poor.
  3. Core Books: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual.

But when I created my "The Light, the Dark, and the Gray" post (again, note the three), I realized how the two axes of Ethics (law vs chaos) and morality (good vs evil) created nine possible alignments, When I started looking, I found nines everywhere! Which makes sense when you think about it, because nine is really just three in triplicate.

  • As previously stated, nine alignments: Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Lawful Evil; Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, Chaotic Evil; Neutral Good, True Neutral, and Neutral Evil.
  • Nine size categories: Fine, Diminutive, Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Gargantuan, Colossal.
  • There are actually nine forms of unique dice used in D&D. In addition to the standard d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20, there is the d3 (half a d6 and used for unarmed strikes), the d2 (half a d4 and used for several small-size weapons) and the d1, aka the single point of damage that sneaks in through a variety of different means, usually through wording like "damage may not be reduced below 1 hit point."
  • Important weapon data: Simple, Martial, or Exotic? Smashing, Bludgeoning, or Piercing? Damage, Critical multiplier, and Range.
  • Before Third edition introduced zero-level cantrips and orisons, spells went from level (power) one to level nine. Everyone knows that all the best spells are ninth level.
  • And I know this last one will be met with suspicion, when you look at my Compass Rose of Character Classes, there are nine distinct positions.
No doubt some of you are thinking, "This is all very well and good, Palette, but where are you going with this?" Which is a fair question, because I'm wondering that myself. I honestly don't know what my thesis is, other than "there sure are a lot of nines around here." Sometimes the answer comes to me as I write, but sadly not in this case.

Since I have to force a conclusion here, I will end with this: D&D has, from the beginning, been about numbers and symbolism. I think it would be neat to create a campaign world -- even an entire cosmology -- where the Law of Nine was apparent and important. However, I don't know how I'd do that without making it just a multiple of the Law of Three.

But this isn't just an excuse to pad my postcount with blogfodder. I actually am working on a campaign world, more for fun than anything else, and I'll try to work Nines into it somehow. If you have any ideas on how to implement this, please leave a comment below... I'd love to see what similarly deranged minds can come up with.

----------------
Now playing: Sisters of Mercy - Nine While Nine
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WNW: Where Is the Lid?

In honor of my missing dental crown, which even now is in pieces somewhere in my gastrointestinal tract, Hugh Laurie asks that quintessential question: Where is the lid?


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Compass Rose of Character Classes

So I've been thinking a lot about D&D lately, mainly because most of my friends have stopped playing City of Heroes (either due to boredom or summer) and so I've been having a torrid affair with Dungeons & Dragons Online. Playing DDO has reminded me of one of the many things which bug me about D&D, which is:

There are too damn many character classes.

Now, let me say first that I like choice in character generation. Usually more choices = better. But the problem here is that with D&D, you play with fantasy archetypes that are almost Jungian in nature (perhaps Gygaxian is a better choice.) By introducing more classes, you begin to dilute what I feel is the essential purity of the originals.

For example, the Barbarian. There is nothing wrong with the concept of a barbarian in D&D, of course, as Robert E. Howard has taught us. But does the barbarian truly need its own class? Really, isn't the barbarian just a half-naked fighter with excessive hit points and who froths at the mouth? Making Rage a fighter feat would do just as well, I feel.

And don't get me started on the Monk and how his Shaolin antics have no place in my Western European-themed game. This was one of the things 2nd Edition got right.

To help my argument, I present to you the Compass Rose of Character Classes. First we begin with the quartet every grognard knows by heart (if perhaps by different names) aligned with the cardinal directions:
FIGHTER
|
|
|
|
CLERIC ------------------+------------------ ROGUE
|
|
|
|
WIZARD
Each class occupies its own niche of Gygaxian Archetypal uniqueness. Each has weaknesses which are bolstered by its "opposing" class (smart, weak wizard complements strong, dumb fighter, etc) and each brings a valued skillset to the table (divine magic, arcane magic, stealthiness, and hitting things really well) which is unmatched by the other classes.

All this is well and good. Now let's try to add some other classes and see where they fit. (I apologize for my crappy formatting; apparently blogger hates spaces, even when I use the HTML code for them.)
FIGHTER
|
|
PALADIN | RANGER
|
|
CLERIC ---------------BARD--------------- ROGUE
|
|
|
|
WIZARD
The Bard fits easily, as he is a generalist and possesses elements of the other four: some arcane, some buffing/healing, some sneaking, and half-decent in combat with the right armor and skill feats (specifically, Elven Chain and Weapon Finesse). The Paladin (Holy Warrior) logically occupies a space between Fighter and Cleric; likewise the Ranger (Stealthy Warrior) is midway between Fighter and Rogue. So far, so good, but this is where things get tricky, because where are the Cleric/Wizard and Rogue/Wizard analogues? Furthermore, where do the Sorceror and the Druid fit into all of this mess?

First, let's fill in the holes in our Compass Rose by leaving the Player's Handbook and turning to the supplemental stuff, such as the Complete series.
FIGHTER
|
|
PALADIN | RANGER
|
|
CLERIC ---------------BARD--------------- ROGUE
|
|
  WARLOCK | SPELLTHIEF
|
|
WIZARD
The Spellthief, from Complete Adventurer, is a Rogue who can steal (and eventually use stolen) magic when he performs a successful sneak attack on a caster, so this is fairly obvious. I do confess that the Warlock is a stretch, and for that I apologize; there is no non-prestige class which melds Divine and Arcane magic seamlessly (unless you count Bard, above). But I feel that if you ignore mechanics and look at the theme of the Warlock -- "Wielder of eldritch energies as a result of a dark pact or infernal parentage" -- then the fit becomes more apparent, at least to me. I fully expect arguments about this; c'est la vie.

Now we return to the Druid and the others, and I detect a wilderness theme occurring. Therefore I make the following placements:
(Barbarian)
FIGHTER
|
|
PALADIN | RANGER
|
|
(Druid) CLERIC -----------BARD------------ ROGUE (Scout)
|
|
  WARLOCK | SPELLTHIEF
|
|
WIZARD
(Sorceror)
Except the Sorceror doesn't quite fit, now does it? In order to fit the wilderness-variant theme we have going here, we need something that's more than a Wizard without a spell book. What we actually need here is a Witch of kind -- herbalist, enchanter, and transmogrifier of legends and fairy tales -- and whose nomenclature helps anchor the Warlock in place semantically. What's rather strange here is that in many ways, the Druid fits this mold nicely: shapeshifting, animal companions, the use of holly and mistletoe, etc. I suppose it could be argued that the Spirit Shaman from Complete Divine fits somewhere in there, perhaps in the spot once occupied by the Druid-now-Witch.

Now the frustration really sets in. We've filled up the prime directions/archetypes, along with the in-between versions. So where do the others fit? Is the Swashbuckler somewhere between Fighter and Ranger? Is the Knight more Fighter than the Fighter? Isn't the Beguiler basically an Illusionist variant of the Bard? Where exactly in all this mess does the Dragon Shaman fit?

And then there are the Fighter/Wizard analogues, of which D&D has at least three: the Warmage, the Hexblade, and the Duskblade. By this point I, who desire an orderly game universe, am becoming increasingly frustrated (and Eris is no doubt laughing her ass off as I try to impose Aneristic tendencies on my own pocket universe, probably because she wanted to play a Monk).

My point -- assuming I still have one by now, which is arguable -- is this: Choice is good, but too many choices leads to confusion. Call it Syndrome's Law: When everyone is X, no one is. The entire purpose of classes in D&D, at least to my understanding, is to provide a discrete framework where everyone knows what their role in the party is and what they bring to the table. With too few classes, you end up with stereotyping, but too many results in such muddying of roles that you might as well drop classes altogether and play an entirely skill-based game. (Which would be interesting, true, but there would be hue and cry that it isn't "really" D&D any more.) Personally, I favor the setup found in figure 2, as it has the "Goldilocks zone" of distinction plus playability. Also, if you want to play a Fighter/Wizard, you'd better multiclass.

So in summary: have some class, but not too much. Some distinction of roles is good, or else when the wind is north by northwest, you'll not know a hawk from a handsaw, or a fighter from a rogue.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Palette of the Nine Fingers, and the Tree of Doom

OK, I exaggerate for dramatic purposes. I still have all my bits. But Jesus, that was a close one. Before I continue, though, I need to tell you a little fact about myself and then a story.


Fact: I like knives and guns. I don't obsess over then (at least I don't think I do) and I can't quote you facts about muzzle velocity or steel composition. But I know enough to make informed decisions and have intelligent conversations about these things, and the main reason is that I find weapons beautiful. I'm sure a psychologist could have a field day exploring my particular eros-thanatos intersections. I admit that a large portion of what draws me to goth as a culture is the whole concept of "lethality as beauty and elegance."

I know I'm not alone in this: anyone who has admired the graceful lines of an F-14 Tomcat or a fine Japanese katana knows exactly what I'm talking about. It's the inanimate version of appreciating a lion or a great white shark, the attitude of "Behold this killing machine, elegant and perfect and pure of purpose."

So when I tell you that I like my knives sharp, don't be surprised or think I'm into self-cutting. I just like for things to be according to their purpose. A car that no one ever drives, a tool which no one ever uses; these things offend me on some primal, visceral level. They are not toys to be played with, not some object d'art to be kept in some pristine state. A wolf which does not kill is not a real wolf, but merely a shadow of one; a dog pretending to be a wolf. There are enough dogs in the world; let dogs be dogs and wolves be wolves, say I.

So yes. All my knives are very, very sharp. Probably because I like to hone them as I watch television. I find it soothing. My kukri machete is... well, not razor sharp, sadly, but then its purpose is not to be a razor. Still, for a chopping tool, it slashes and slices very, very well.


Story: It was 1996 or 97, I believe, in Florida during a particularly nasty summer. I don't exactly recall the month but I know that it was so hot and humid and sticky and oppressive that we felt Hell held no horrors for us.

I was hanging out with my friends, as bored college-age kids in their twenties are wont to do. There was really nothing worth doing, seeing as how it was mid-afternoon, for we'd seen all the new movies and played all the new games and the only thing left for us to do was bitch about how bored we were and how fucking hot it was. We might have gone drinking, if it weren't for the fact that some of us were underage and the rest of us were poor.

Then suddenly, my friend K had a brilliant idea: we would go across the street to the grocery store and buy a watermelon. We all agreed this was a sublime notion, and so we pooled our money and raced across the street (because asphalt in the summer is HOT!) and thence we collected our cold, sweet, juicy bounty from the promised land that is Publix.

It was a large watermelon. LARGE. At least as large as a 20-pound turkey. It took two of us to carry it, not because it was heavy but because it was large and awkward and slippery from the condensation forming on its skin as the cold rind hit the hot summer air. We carried it with as much love and devotion as you might carry a child.

When we arrived back at my friend's apartment, we were confronted with the sudden horrible truth we didn't have a knife suitable for slicing the watermelon. At best, all we had were pocket knives, and that would be long and awkward and messy. And then, K had yet another idea, and as I write this I begin to suspect that he planned the entire thing just to show off.

There is a common expression in the South that "Hey y'all, watch this!" are famous redneck last words. K was one of those people whom we believed -- with no small fondness, mind you -- would not die a natural death. Looking back, he reminds me quite a bit of Adam Savage from Mythbusters, only without quite so much foresight or common sense.

But I digress, because after only a moment my friend K had reappeared wearing a short bathrobe-kimono thing, with a white cloth across his forehead, and carrying -- brandishing, really -- a katana. The entire mood of the room could be summarized as "Holy shit." We knew we were in the presence of something awesome about to happen, but we didn't know if it would awesomely cool or awesomely disastrous. But still: watermelon, right?

K decided that in order to get the proper overhead swing, we would need to go outside, because otherwise he'd hit the ceiling, and we began looking for a way to, for wont of a better term, build the sacrificial altar upon which this watermelon would be butchered. And that's when K saw the old air conditioner, just the right size and shape to serve as a chopping block.

Now when I say air conditioner, I don't mean the window kind, nor do I mean the kind that you find outside of houses that are roughly the size of a refrigerator. No, this was some strange mid-size condenser unit, about the volume of a large but still portable drink cooler. It was covered in sheet metal, rusted and warped from its exposure to the elements, and obviously old. But it still worked, because we could hear it humming.

K placed the watermelon into the unit, bowed, and dropped into iaijutsu stance. The rest of us took several steps back. We weren't sure if we were going to witness John Belushi, Gallagher, or Tim Allen in action. K raised the katana, gave a kiai, and CHOPPED.

THUNK went the watermelon into two halves.

CLANK went the katana as it embedded itself into the housing of the (still hooked up to industrial voltage, thank you very much) air conditioner.

GASP went all of us as K began to twitch. Someone went to hit him with a log, ostensibly to keep him from being electrocuted but in truth, how many times in life do you get to clobber your friend with a piece of wood and still have a clear conscience?

Sadly? Luckily? it turned out that K's twitching was not electrocution, but merely him trying to extricate the blade from the steel housing. It had made a cut nearly an inch deep.

Later, as we ate our watermelon, K said that at the last minute he had thought better of actually chopping down with full force and instead had only used a fraction of his strength. Basically, gravity and a sharp edge had done that much damage. If he had gone full strength, well... K might not have been eating watermelon that night.


So now, in light of all that, I will tell you what happened yesterday. There is a tree just on the edge of our property which has a branch in what my mother feels is an inconvenient place. Knowing that I had this kukri and was itching for a chance to use it, she asked me to remove the branch for her. Easy-peasy, says I.

Turns out, the branch was too large for me to prune with my kukri. I mean, I suppose I could have, but what a waste of time and effort it would be. So instead I got my Winchester Pocket Chainsaw and (with some difficulty) sawed the branch off.

But there was just one problem: It wouldn't fall. The upper branches of this limb were tangled in the creepers and vines that tie most of Florida's foliage together. So clearly, this was a job for a machete, and out came the kukri.

I promise to you all that I was being careful. I was careful to chop away from my body, from lower left to upper right, because I didn't want to risk hitting myself in the leg on the downstroke.

I have no idea how I managed to hit my left index finger. None at all. If you had asked me an instant before the accident where my left hand was, I would have told you it was down by my waist. All I know is that somehow I managed to slice the hell out of my finger, between the first and second knuckle, and all I could do was think "Well thank God I wasn't chopping, or it would be completely gone."

Run inside, flush wound, disinfect, wrap with gauze and tape. If I'd done nerve or tendon or ligament damage I'd have been screaming in pain, so I figured merely muttering "Fuck!" over my carelessness was a good sign.

Nearly 24 hours later, everything is fine. It's still a nasty gash, mind you -- I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose the flap of skin I nearly sliced off, so it'll be a scab for a long time and I'll probably have a scar when it's fully healed -- but I have full range of motion on the finger.

Morals of the story:
  1. Wear gloves, dumbass.
  2. Know where your hands are at all times.
  3. Respect your tools and practice with them, or they'll bite you.
On the good side, if I can do this much damage to myself with what was basically a glancing blow, I know I can take someone's head off with this thing without too much effort. Loreena is sharp.

Yes, I named my kukri Loreena. Irony is a bitch goddess, to be sure.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Submission sent!

... now I just need to wait until August 7 to hear if I've won or not.

*twitch*
*twitch*
*froth at mouth*

Payshunz, I no has it.

Follow Friday

Jean Bauhaus is great writer and even better friend. She's been instrumental in helping me develop Curse/Or, so it's only right that I return the favor.

You all NEED to go here and read the first few installments of her e-novel, This Old Haunt.

Synopsis:
Ron Wilson wakes up dead and discovers she's in for the fight of her life. A paranormal investigator in life, Ron was setting up for a ghost hunt in the spookiest house in town when she found herself the one being hunted. Now she's trapped in the house along with a bevy of other ghosts -- including an axe-murderess and the family she killed, an old man who just wants to go be with his wife, and a handsome handyman whose past seems more haunted and mysterious than the house they're imprisoned in -- all of them victims of a malevolent, murderous spirit. Refusing to accept this as her afterlife, Ron rallies the other ghosts to gang up on their captor and fight for their freedom. But how does a ghost fight a monster who can devour souls--especially when that monster has red pigtails and freckles and is cute as a button?
Why are you still here? GO!

Probably no post today

Because I am crafting my proposal to McSweeny's Internet Tendency to be one of their new columnists. The deadline is today.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The final elements (Z Kit)

For those following along at home, your Z Kit is almost complete. You've included all the essential components, and the only things which remain fall into two categories:
  1. Stuff you've forgotten
  2. Stuff which is nice but not really necessary
An example of #1 is a set of disposable face masks. I'm not going to start any arguments by claiming that N95 face masks will keep you from getting the flu, but I know two things. One, it's better to have some protection rather than none at all, even if all the mask does is keep people away from you and remind you not to touch your face with your fingers; and Two, in many disasters there's a lot of crap in the air, be it smoke, dust, ash, chemical vapors etc that you don't need to be breathing.

(I just now realized, in the course of writing this, that I also need some kind of eye protection as well. So I'm going to raid my college trunk for old chemistry supplies, like safety glasses and an apron.)

Keeping a Z Kit current is an ongoing task, which is why I consider it a hobby. Whenever I enter a store I always browse with the thought of "would any of this be useful in my bag?" That's how a roll of industrial-strength all-weather duct tape and a spool of 100' of kitchen twine ended up in my bag.

Other stuff to consider:
  • Pens/pencils and pocket moleskine notebook
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Earplugs
  • Wind-up watch or travel clock, preferably with an alarm
  • 1 Liter Nalgene water bottle (you can stuff other crap inside it when not in use)
Things which fall under category #2 are what you call "gadgetry." It might be expensive, like a handheld GPS unit or satellite phone, or it could be as simple as a cell phone or MP3 player. I consider these items luxuries, as they aren't necessary for saving your life but they do make it much more bearable. Almost all of these things are electronic in some way, so either carry batteries for them (and you know my thoughts on that) or have some alternate way to charge them (if I had the cash I would buy a Freeloader Solar Power Charger in a heartbeat).

If you do end up carrying electronic gizmos, you need to protect them. I recommend the Lifeline Waterproof Case because for $5 you get a tough, locking plastic case inside which you can fit a cell phone or iPod. I found mine in the automotive section of Target.

The other doohickey I have is a Tasco 10x25 Monocular, which I got for $10 and free shipping. Woot! If you have the room or don't like squinting with one eye, you can get the binocular version for $20.

And that's it! You now have a perfectly functional Z Kit, which you can take everywhere you go so that you'll be ready for disaster at a moment's notice. I look forward to seeing your version of the kit and any ideas or suggestions for improvement you may have. Also, if you see a nifty gadget that simply screams "Z Kit!" I must know about it.

Don't let the zombies getcha!



As a postscript, is there sufficient interest for me to post a series of pictures showing how my bag is packed and what goes where? There is an art to packing it so as to maximize space and (perhaps more importantly) optimize weight distribution.

Wednesday Night Warfare (Special late-breaking Thursday edition)

The war correspondents of the PNN (Palette Network News) have only just now returned from the debriefing to give you this critical piece of battlefield intelligence:



Holy crap! What was that? Can we get a closer look?



It... it appears to be a giant robot!



Wait... comm service has just been restored... we are now receiving this live from the war zone:




... there are no words.

Well, maybe "awesome!"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Useful Tools (Z Kit)

If you have been building your Z Kit along with this series, take heart in the fact that it is nearly complete! And if you are sick and tired of this series, rejoice that it is nearly over! Only two categories remain for discussion, and today we shall cover "Useful tools."

Most of what goes under this category is what you'd find in a camping store. The rules for these are simple:
  1. Lightweight
  2. Slim/small form factor
  3. Effective/durable
  4. Inexpensive without being cheap
  5. Preferably multi-function
This last point is important, because a good multi-function tool by its very nature encompasses numbers one and two due to a high use-to-mass ration. A bad multi-tool is usually ineffective and cheap, despite also being light and small. Be wary of what you buy and test everything as if your life depended on it.

Here is an excellent example from my own experience. In earlier posts I had mentioned that I was worried the Emergency Pro 4-in-1 was a little too fragile for my purposes. Some basic testing proved this to be the case (not at all water-resistant, easily breakable plastic shell) so I re-thought my priorities, went shopping, and ended up with the Eton Microlink FR150:


Larger than a cigarette pack and smaller than a paperback book, the FR150 is definitely small and lightweight. It also feels very durable, as it is covered with a black rubberized coating. I wouldn't call it waterproof, but it's definitely safe to take out into the rain. There is even a water/dust cover for the headphone jack and recharging outlets.

The flashlight is very bright and has better range than I expected from an LED. The two features I like most, though, are the solar panel on top (laziness for the win!) and ability for the radio to pick up Weather Band. Since I live in a state regularly beset by hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, this is very very useful for any sort of bug-out scenario.

The FR150 does have two drawbacks however, minor though they are. First, its blocky nature makes it kind of awkward to hold as a flashlight (though the attached wrist strap helps with this because I don't have to grip it so much as just carry it). The second is that it doesn't come with a cell-phone adapter; you have to send in a card specifying what kind of phone you have and they'll send you the right adapter. I was fortunate in that I could use the adapters that came with the Emergency Pro, so no worries for me.

Let's review:
  1. Lightweight: YES
  2. Slim/small form factor: YES
  3. Effective/durable: YES. This has the American Red Cross seal of approval.
  4. Inexpensive without being cheap: YES. You can buy them for $24.99 from Thinkgeek.
  5. Preferably multi-function: YES
With these rules in mind, let's go over some other tools you will find useful.

Compass: Some people/places will try to sell you on a Lensatic compass with a bevel this and azimuth that, but unless you're in the army, all you need from a compass is that it tells you where North is and that it's easy to read and follow. Everything else is useless weight. (However, you need a map of some kind to go with it or it's all but useless. I have a roadmap of the entire East Coast in my kit.) My compass has a magnifying glass over the lens and a built-in light which illuminates the dial. I also have one that's built into a zipper pull along with a thermometer. To that I have tied a...

Whistle: Excellent for signalling distress or getting a taxi. Also, it's easier to blow a whistle than shout. Make sure you get one that's Coast Guard approved, like a Fox 40. If it's really good it will be sold in a bundle with a...

Signal Mirror: Make sure you get one that says Star Flash, because they're aimable, they float, and they're damn hard to break. If you aren't using this to signal for help, it can help with basic grooming or very rudimentary cooking/fire-starting.

Wire Saw: Again, don't get the cheap imported crap. Get one that's NATO approved, like the BCB Commando saw. You can use it as a wrap-around saw, or tie it to a frame and make a bowsaw. It also makes a pretty nifty industrial-goth necklace when tied together (no kidding, I've worn this to clubs and it makes quite an impression. Just make sure there's some protection for your neck.)

Folding Trowel: You won't be digging any trenches with this, but it's great for digging up roots, bait worms, or even an emergency latrine. It's also tiny when folded (about the size of my hand.)

Leatherman: Forget the Swiss Army Knife, this is the serious multi-tool handymen swear by. There are dozens of colors, sizes, styles, and configurations. When you're picking out yours, don't think too hard on the comparison that this is what women think of when they're shopping for shoes.

Knife sharpeners: You need to keep your blades honed, after all. I prefer Smith's Sharpeners -- a Two Step for my regular knives (it's small and idiot-proof) and an Edge  Eater for my kukri machete.

And finally, don't forget 50 to 100 feet of 550 paracord. Light, strong, and you can cut it apart and separate the strands for smaller jobs (fishing lines, shoelaces, etc.)

Have I forgotten something? Probably. Leave a comment and let me know!

EDIT: Of course I forgot something. You'll need something to whack other things with, and a prybar of some kind. An 8 ounce stubby claw hammer solves both of those problems, though if you have a gas valve at home the On Duty 4-in-1 Emergency Shutoff Tool might be a better choice.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Med Kit (Z Kit)

Even though it wasn't first on the list in terms of survival importance, don't be fooled: the medical portion of your Z Kit is its centerpiece. You will spend more time and money on it than on anything else, and it is important that you do not stint in this regard. When you need this bad boy, you really really need it.

What's good about this is that it is also the most justifiable expenditure of the whole thing. People may look at you funny for having a portable stove and a survival blanket in your pack, but no one ever sees a first aid kit and has paranoid thoughts. (Bone saws are another matter entirely.) Best of all, this is something you will use even if the dead don't rise from their graves and hunger for the flesh of the living. Accidents happen, and now you're prepared for them. It is for this reason, and the aforementioned good impression, that your medical kit be at the very top of your pack.

First we start with the basics. I suggest a prepackaged kit with as many pieces as you can afford. I use the 299-piece All-Purpose First Aid Kit from First Aid Only. $24.99, but I got it on sale for half price (score!) at my local Target. (FYI, this case is about the size of a hardcover book.)


  • (75) 3/4"x3" Adhesive plastic bandages
  • (20) 3/4"x3" Fabric bandages
  • (30) 1"x3" Adhesive plastic bandages
  • (10) 1"x3" Fabric bandages
  • (4) Knuckle fabric bandages
  • (4) Fingertip fabric bandages
  • (2) 2"x4" Elbow & knee plastic bandages
  • (50) 3/8"x1-1/2" Junior plastic bandages
  • (1) 1-1/2"x1-1/2" Patch plastic bandage
  • (3) Butterfly wound closures
  • (6) 2"x2" Gauze dressing pads
  • (4) 3"x3" Gauze dressing pads
  • (2) 4"x4" Gauze dressing pads
  • (1) 5"x9" Trauma pad
  • (1) 2" Conforming gauze roll bandage
  • (6) Aspirin tablets
  • (6) Ibuprofen tablets
  • (6) Extra-strength non-aspirin tablets
  • (14) Alcohol cleansing pads
  • (15) Antiseptic cleansing wipes (sting free)
  • (6) Antibiotic ointment packs
  • (2) First aid/burn cream packs
  • (3) Insect sting relief pads
  • (2) 1/2"x5 yd. First aid tape roll
  • (1) 4"x5" Instant cold compress
  • (1) Burn relief pack, 3.5 gm.
  • (1) Sterile eye pad
  • (1) Emergency blanket
  • (3) 2"x2" Moleskin squares
  • (1) Thermometer, one time use
  • (10) 3" Cotton tipped applicators
  • (2) 6"x11/16" Finger splint
  • (2) Exam quality vinyl gloves
  • (1) 4-1/2" Scissors, nickel plated
  • (1) 4" Tweezers, plastic
  • (1) 40 pg. First aid guide

This is a good start, but it's by no means complete. This is my version of the above kit, as it stands now:

Most of the items shown actually store within zippered case. Bulkier items pack next to it.

Starting from top left corner:
  • 299 Piece First Aid Kit, open
  • Ace bandage with velcro closure
  • Elastic thigh strap (from here) to be used as bandage tie or tourniquet
  • Plastic case containing two Kotex pads
  • Waterproof match container, now re-purposed as a pill box (currently holding Maalox, Advil, and Claritin)
  • Water purification tablets (2 piece)
  • Prescription Meperidine left over from my last Kidney Stone
  • Advil PM (sleeping pills, basically)
  • Lamisil foot anti-fungal ointment (aren't you happy to know these intimate details about me?)
  • Super Glue with applicator (cannibalized from a sewing kit)
  • Insect repellent
  • Insect bite/Poison Ivy sting relief
  • Blistex
  • SPF 70 Sunblock
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Needles and thread, from aforementioned sewing kit
  • Specialty needles
  • New Skin liquid bandage
  • Antibiotic ointment with painkiller
  • Precision tweezers, slant and point tip
  • 10 safety pins
  • Trauma Bandage
  • Snakebite venom extractor
  • Derma-Safe utility knife and saw
  • Bandage scissors (the blunt-tipped kind that can cut through a penny)
  • Eyeglass repair kit
Not shown but still useful and in my bag:
  • Travel toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Pack of Q-tips
  • Fingernail clippers

What's ironic is that, in the course of writing this, I realized that I had forgotten something: powder to keep my feet dry. Wet feet are miserable and can lead to all sorts of fun infections (I speak from personal experience here).

I'm almost certain I've forgotten something just as crucial. If you think of it, please let me know!

The Fine Print


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License


Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.