Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Light, the Dark and the Gray

I'm taking a break from my Z Kit posting to write about something which has taken up residence in my brain and refuses to let go -- religion in D&D.

The panoply of gods in a typical D&D setting has always bothered me on some level, mostly due to redundancy. If there's a god of war that the Humans worship, do we really need an Elf god of war, a Dwarf god of war, an Orc god of war? Why can't we just say that there is ONE god of war, venerated by all races, and if one of them is especially warlike then that god is considered their patron? I toyed with this for a while, but it never really developed because it quickly became so stereotypical that if we were talking about real cultures I'd be accused of racism.

So the general idea languished for a while, until Trollsmyth linked to a series of PVP strips about D&D, and Jade's dialog in panel 3 really grabbed me:

"It's fantasy. It's a new mythology." Indeed it is. Why then do we feel the need to shackle ourselves to the notion of multiple polytheistic pantheons? Why not have something that's a bit more accessible to our Christian friends?

This is how many of my ideas develop: take an existing conceit, add some contrarian viewpoints, and let simmer until fully heretical. Thus was born what I hope is a fully-developed cross-cultural D&D religion:

The Light, The Dark, and the Gray

The Church of The Light

It isn't a church in the typical sense of the word in that it doesn't worship a deity. Instead, its followers worship and revere the Positive Material Plane, although they don't call it that -- to them it is simply The Light. It is the fount of all healing and the source of all souls, and when parishioners die they simply rejoin the glory of the Light. When priests turn undead or heal the sick, they are directly channeling the Light.

The Light, as a supernatural force, has a very simple agenda: Promote life. Healing, fertility (of both crops and animals), bounty; these are what the Light promotes. All "normal" cultures revere the Light. Who would be fool enough to reject a force that wishes to heal everyone, regardless of race or alignment? Even those with evil alignments like to have their wounds mended.

However, all is not puppies and roses. The Light fosters openness; truly, one cannot do harm to one's neighbor if his actions are made plain to all. The Light wants to burn away the darkness, prevent deception, and establish truth as an immutable concept. These are all admirable goals, but as they say, the devil is in the details...

Or in this case, the implementation. Mortals, as is their wont, have screwed things up. If the Light seeks to burn away deception, then it is the purpose of the Church to seek out all deception and expose it for the world to see, and bring it to justice if necessary. This means that "privacy" is often considered a sin by more extreme versions of the Church. After all, if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide, and so you will have no problems if the nice Paladin enters your home and takes a look around. The Light Sees All, and if you try to hide something, then clearly you are a servant of the Dark.

Extreme adherents of the Light -- what other cultures would call hermits or ascetics -- do not live apart from the community. Instead, they are what we would call "naked, raving madmen." They live their lives in complete openness, hiding nothing (yes, nothing, develop that in as much detail as your depraved minds desire) from their community.

Churches of the Light are grand things, full of stained glass windows near the roof that capture the sun's rays from all angles, and large clear windows at the bottom so that everyone can see inside. They provide healing for free, but will not resurrect unless under the direst of circumstances, for that is "pulling a worthy soul away from its communion with the Light." The Church makes a tidy profit selling such things as Everburning Torches, Sunrods, and glass (indeed, they pioneered the art and still possess the finest glaziers around.) They're also excellent scryers.

Priests of the Light receive their spells at dawn.

The Cult of the Dark

You would think that the Dark would be universally hated in this setting, but it occupies a necessary social niche: people like their privacy. If the Church had its way, everyone would live in glass houses, and the entire town would know what you're eating and who you're sleeping with.

The Dark says, "Do what you want. We don't care." And that is very, very liberating.

If you're a young lover who is meeting her beau for a midnight tryst away from prying eyes, you are serving the Dark. If you plot to overthrow an oppressive tyrant in secret, you further the Dark's agenda. If you simply don't have the wherewithal to be honest all the damn time (and deal with the consequences thereof) and instead put on a "game face" when you're out in the world, and revert to who you really are in the comfort and privacy of your own home...

... you're a filthy lying Cultist and you should be ashamed of yourself! For your own good, the Paladins of the Light will kick your door down, drag you out into the street, and make you confess everything. You will feel so much better afterwards. You will.

The Cult of the Dark maintains that while the Church espouses honesty, only the Dark truly embodies it. After all, honesty is who you are when no one is watching, and the Light wants to watch you all the time. It wants you to be something that you aren't, forcing you to live a lifestyle you detest. The Dark doesn't care what you do. The Dark encourages you to do what you want. In the darkness, no one can see you, and no one will judge you...

... and from there, it's a very easy step on the slippery slope from "basic civil liberties" to "deviant behavior" to what is obviously evil behavior. If no one sees you sin, there are no consequences, and therefore you're free to indulge every little twisted desire you might normally repress. People who give in to the corruption of the Dark frequently become necromancers, assassins and blackguards, and those who die with its taint upon their souls frequently become undead. The Dark, of course, is the Negative Material Plane, the source of all destructive and necromantic power and cradle of undeath.

Shrines to the Dark exist in caves, basements, even dense thickets and copses of trees. They aren't blood-stained abattoirs or dens of perversion (though they can be); they can just as easily be a secluded glen where lovers go to escape the prying eyes of their parents. Wherever dimness and privacy reign, so too does the Dark. The Cult isn't organized like the Church, but it manages to flourish in individual cells. Cultists make a brisk profit selling wards and anti-scrying measures, and are the best fences in town. They'll even resurrect you... sort of.

Priests of the Dark receive their spells at dusk.

The Cabal of the Gray

Because sometimes people get tired of all this dogma and just want to be left in peace.

The Gray isn't so much a force or a plane as it is a compromise between the Light and the Dark. Yes, healing is good, but we'd like to keep our family drama private, thank you very much. Is that too much to ask?

By paying obeisance to both forces, they have created a third; a middle path of moderation, a gestalt entity, a "compromise god" if you will. If Light is Yang and Dark is Yin, then Gray is the line where they meet. Gray is the source of all other forces which are neither Good nor Evil. If you're looking for a place to jam elementalism, illusion, psionics, or anything else, this is the place for it.

Believers of the Gray aren't organized in any sense of the word -- there are no "Gray services" for people to attend. In fact, most people wouldn't even consider themselves Gray, just worshippers of the Light with some common sense and no time for dogma. Chores aren't going to do themselves, and while everyone needs healthy crops and livestock, sometimes you have to cut ethical corners to ensure that healthiness because the Church can't be everywhere.

If the Light is Neutral Good, and the Dark is Neutral Evil, then the Gray is just plain Neutral. It's the default belief system of most NPCs, who (conveniently) also happen to be Neutral.

Priests of the Gray come in two flavors: Druids who find all the Light-Dark extremism ridiculous, and wandering philosopher-monks who preach moderation in all things. Needless to say, the Church finds them dangerous heretics, the Cult thinks they're weaklings, and the common people are happy to take whatever assistance is offered as long as the Cabalists don't lecture them too much.

Priests of the Gray choose at character generation when to receive their spells: dawn, noon, dusk, or midnight.


Hopefully I've fleshed these ideas out enough that they make sense and provide multiple uses within a a campaign. I've tried to balance them out, putting a little evil within the good and a little good within the evil, just to make things interesting. It's all in how they are used... the Dark can further good by protecting rebels who oppose an evil (if law-abiding) tyrant, and the Light could seek to expose their conspiracy, while the Gray goes about its business helping (or hindering) both sides as convenient.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Linkdump Monday

Some days, I just gotta go "Fuck it, here are some links, see you tomorrow."


Fuck it, here are some links, see you tomorrow.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Transformers ROTF: An Executive Summary

I'd like to point out that I didn't write this summary. I can be found here, as comment #24, written by "Louis".
So, you remember the thingie from the first movie? Well, now its been blows up into lots of little thingies but they just makes the guy go Woo Woo Woo and then the robots who falls down last time get up and make the things BOOM and then girl had the panties and she messed up the room and then big growly bear grabbed the guy but OPTIMUS PRIME fight him and then he fall down and that was sad but now the guy is trouble so he and the peoples go there and they talks about the new thing with the new big thing guy and they runs to the place with the mummy and they find the thing but all the blow ups wrecks the thing but they didn’t really wreck it and they push the button and OPTIMUS PRIME doesn’t fall down no more and punches the ugly and they win.
Sir, I tip my hat to you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Followup (Z Kit)

Gads, I am terribly unorganized. Anyone who has seen my room (and lived!) can attest to that. That I have created such a hugely organized thing as a Z Kit is almost out of character for me.

However, forgetting things and doing them half-assed is completely in-character. Which is the reason for today's post being a follow up to the food gathering portion of Tuesday's blog.

OK, so you've got your MRE, your granola bars, and your powdered soups. But eventually food will run out, especially if the disaster in question leaves few survivors or devastates the government. At some point you're going to have to forage for your own food. What will you do?

Assuming you don't want to starve to death, you're going end up foraging and hunting. (If you're still in a city by this point, you're a fool.) Using the knowledge stored in the Survival Manual of your choice, you should know what plants and roots are safe to eat. But twigs and berries are only good for a supplementary diet -- if you really want to live and feel good, you're going to have to get some protein in your diet.

If you lack a hunting rifle or a shotgun, you may feel that your options are limited, but this simply isn't true. You can of course always eat insects...

Oh, don't look at me like that. You do it all the time and don't realize it.

Be that as it may, you're perfectly within your rights to choose not to eat bugs, and I won't fault you for that. But where then does it leave us? The answer, my dear readers, is as simple as it is lazy: fishing and trapping.

If you are anything like me, you have forgotten everything useful you learned at summer camps as a child, have little to no wilderness skills, and no inclination to change either of those. But that's easy, because there are two wonderful devices out there that are cheap, easy to use, and practically idiot-proof. Best of all, as they are automated, you can "set and forget" them.

Device one: The Speedhook

So effective that it's been outlawed for non-survival use in Minnesota and other locales and a key part of U.S. Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard survival kits, the Speedhook is the perfect tool for an idiot fisherman. You don't even need a pole! I recommend pairing it with a Survival Fishing kit Basic (or Advanced) to give you a selection of string, bait, hooks, etc.

Device two: The Yo-yo Fishing Reel

According to the testimonials, you can use this sucker to bring in record amounts of catfish. That's great. But what struck me is that you can also use it to trap birds, squirrels, and other small game. Just combine it with some snare wire and you're all set. The best part? It sells for under three dollars.

So there you go. Two methods of nearly fully-automated food gathering that don't require you to know a damn thing about fishing/trapping, are small and lightweight, and inexpensive without being cheap.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Z Mail (Z Kit)

A few questions from my readers!

Do you carry a mora?

I actually had to Google this to find what a Mora is. I assume you mean the knife? I hadn't even heard of one of these before, which is pretty odd, since apparently it's world-famous and favored by knife enthusiasts everywhere. Is it really that good? If so, I'll need to look into getting one.

What's your take on the value of those 'emergency rations' buckets from chain stores?
You mean like this?

I generally view with disdain anything that is "pre-made" because a large portion of the cost is the convenience of having someone do it for you. I think you'd be far better off assembling your own survival pantry using cans of tuna, jars of peanut butter, etc, and you'll be happier with the results. The only reason I could think of recommending this product is its 10-20 year shelf life,
so if you want to buy this for the peace of mind of not having to worry about emergency supplies for the next decade, then go for it. To be fair, though, there's really no reason I can think of for properly sealed canned food to go bad within a reasonable amount of time (2 years or so), and if you speak to anyone who's been in the military, they will tell you that food prepped for long-term storage usually tastes like reconstituted shit.

Here in Florida, we usually stock up on supplies at the beginning of hurricane season (June 1 - November 30) and then use the oldest stuff first. If you think of it as an annual chore, like putting up storm windows or cleaning gutters, then it becomes a dependable routine and you won't go OMG TEH STORM IS COMING and panic-purchase water and batteries.

I've only ever seen them advertised or sold in America and can't tell if they're a handy back up plan or something to keep the populace calm whilst the politicians evacuate :-/

It's fairer to attribute this to gross capitalism and humanity's basic desire to be lazy. "Here, buy this so you won't have to work/worry/think about it!" It's the same reason people buy fast food when it's cheaper and healthier to eat at home.

But there is a substantial "survival subculture" here in the USA (I expect there's one in any country with large wilderness areas) and it bivouacs upon a seductive, slippery slope. It's one thing to stock up on supplies, just in case. It's another to make it a full-time obsession, which is what many of these people do. It's rather like the difference between "I own a gun for self defense. I know how to use it. I keep it cleaned and within easy reach in case there is an intruder in the house" and "I have a gun in every room of the house and I can shoulder-roll to all of them. I have lines of fire clearly marked off and I know which pieces of furniture I can shelter behind. Sometimes I practice, in the dark, so that I'm ready for when the BATF comes to take my guns."

Like this.

I realize I sound a bit like a hypocrite here, but the purpose of my Z Kit is to 1) be a fun hobby and 2) pack the most useful stuff I can think of in an easy to carry container. Nowhere in that mission statement is "I will live in fear" or "I will pay huge amounts of money in order to survive at all costs." At that point it ceases to be practical and becomes a very expensive neurosis.

You may find it interesting in that I don't have a very strong survival instinct. Due to my personal belief system, I don't have any particular fear of death. What I do seek to avoid, however, is discomfort. If I'm the first to die in a disaster, fine by me (as long as I don't suffer). But dammit, I refuse to die of starvation or exposure, because those are miserable and painful.

Hopefully, my Z Kit reflects this belief.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I am an idiot (Z Kit)

I can't believe I forgot to mention an item of critical importance to any Z Kit: the flashlight. I'd actually put this just after the utility knife in terms of importance, though it could be argued that seeing in the dark is more important than a strong tool/weapon. (I'd disagree.) Let's put it like this: the knife goes in your primary hand, the flashlight in your other hand. That's how important they are.

Naturally, this brings us to the question of "What flashlight should I use?" That's an interesting question, and as always, I have several answers for you.

The first answer is, "Pack two," because certain things are important enough that you should always have a backup. I have a small LED flashlight that I bought at my local grocery store -- and when I say small, I mean it's six inches long -- that lives in the cell phone pocket of my pack. I can get to it quickly, and it's very bright. However, it has two large drawbacks: It uses batteries, and the illumination range of LEDs falls off rapidly.

The second answer, then, is "In addition to having one you can grab quickly, have another that doesn't need batteries." Batteries are like the worst combination of food and ammunition: they go bad after time, they're heavy for their size, often bulky, and if you lose them or their appliance, both are rendered useless. I don't care how butch your D-cell Maglite is, when the batteries run out it's just a heavy aluminum club.

My backup flashlight is the Emergency Pro, because it's also a radio and a cell phone charger. (Actually, with the adapters I have, it also recharges my MP3 player, which is of critical importance to me.) As you may have noticed, I like having tools that perform a variety of functions, because it reduces space and gives me a certain cushion of "overlapping backup", i.e. if I lose my Swiss Army knife, I can still open cans with my hobo tool, etc.

Now let me say this as a warning: I have not used this tool very hard. I don't know how durable it is. It might be a fragile piece of crap. (If so, tell me.) But as of right now, I'm happy with its performance, and I don't plan on testing it to destruction.

So, to summarize, get 2 flashlights. That way you have a regular one which is ready for immediate use, and a crank one for long-term use. And if at all possible, get one that does other things, because that multiplies its usefulness.

Food and Water (Z Kit)

This next bit is tricky because it exists at the crux of several viewpoints.

Survival enthusiasts believe that a proper bug-out bag must contain a 72-hour supply of food and water. They are quite adamant on this point, as 72 hours is typically how long it will take for emergency workers to reach you in case of a catastrophe, and I must say I can't fault them for their reasoning.


72 hours of water for one person is three gallons (11 liters for our metric friends). I'm simply not capable of carrying that kind of weight around, and the entire point of this Z Kit was that I could carry it with me pretty much anywhere. I'm building this for portability, convenience, and universal use, and that means I can't make this a true bug-out bag.

Still, compromises can be made. Realizing that I can't carry that much water, I've done the next bext thing: I bought the biggest CamelBak I could find (3 liters) and stowed it in my pack. It doesn't take up much space when it's empty, and I figure in an emergency I'll have the opportunity to fill up somewhere. I also have water purification tablets and a filter, just to be safe. If you go this route, make sure you get the kind that kills/filter Cryptosporidium and Giardia Lamblia.

For food, I have one MRE (shelf life: 5 years), supplemented with granola bars, trail mix, etc. I figure this is about a day's worth of nutrition. I'd love to get some First Strike Rations but I have no idea how to go abut ordering those on the civilian market -- they're probably still too new for any surplus items to have been resold to local Army-Navy stores. (If anyone knows how I can legally get some of these, hook me up.)

(On the subject of asking my readers for information, does anyone know anything about LifeCaps? The idea itself is promising but I won't risk my money on something like that until a source I trust vouches for them.)

Now these next bits aren't essential, but they sure go a long way to making your life easier:
  • A pocket stove and a sierra cup will allow you to boil water for soup, tea, and coffee.
  • A mess kit allows you to eat with a semblance of normalcy. I like Light My Fire because it's lightweight, compact, and hangs from a carabiner with its harness. The only drawback is that, being plastic, you can't cook with it. Metal mess kits let you do this, but they're heavier and often transfer heat the wrong way (hot handles, cold meals).
  • Likewise, a good hobo tool.
  • I mentioned flint and steel earlier, but now we're getting a bit more sophisticated. Waterproof matches are all but a necessity...
  • ... and now that you've struck that match, the first thing you should light is a candle, so that you can light other things with it. I like the Nuwick 44 hour survival candle, because you can fit that sucker right into your pocket stove and cook with it.

OK, now you can eat, but what about cleaning up afterwards? Health and sanitation is next!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gloves Revisted (Z Kit)

I'm surprised that, of all things, yesterday's comment about gloves has gotten feedback. Apparently I need to re-think my decision . Can anyone suggest to me a good, durable, and affordable ($35 or less) pair of all-weather, all-environment, rough-use gloves?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What to wear (Z Kit)

Doggie shenanigans at Chateau Palette have quieted somewhat, so once again I return to discussing the Z Kit. Today's topic: Appropriate Armageddon Attire, or What to Wear to the Zombie Apocalypse.

Some of you may wonder why I'm discussing clothing before food or medical supplies, and the reason is simple: it takes you three weeks to starve to death, and if you're smart you won't need a medical kit for quite a while, but if you're improperly dressed for the terrain, the weather, or the catastrophe, you could die in a matter of minutes. Think of it as a shelter that you wear.

Take a look at what the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook has to say about clothing:
Explorer's Outfit: This is a full set of clothes for someone who never knows what to expect. It includes sturdy boots, leather breeches or a skirt, a belt, a shirt (perhaps with a vest or jacket), gloves, and a cloak... The clothes have plenty of pockets (especially the cloak). The outfit also includes any extra items you might need, such as a scarf or a wide-brimmed hat.

That's a sensible list, so let's apply it to our modern Z Kit.
  • Boots: Some folks would suggest a hiking boot, like a Wolverine or Timberland. There may be something to that, but for my money, nothing beats military-surplus combat boots. They are tough as hell, waterproof, warm, give great ankle support, and while I wouldn't want to test it I suspect they may resist snake bites. I've had mine since 1991 and they're still going strong. About the only thing I can't do in them is swim.
  • Pants: Leather is durable, but it can get hot. You want something lightweight but tough, so you've got basically two choices: buy some overpriced "trail pants" or get a decent set of BDUs/ACUs. They aren't at all fashionable (unless you're into military chic) but they get the job done and (assuming you don't get a cheap knockoff) they're worth every penny you pay for them (usually around $15)
  • Belt: I'm not really a big believer in belts, but if you are, might I suggest the Paracord Survival Belt? That way you can carry over a hundred feet of rope (double the Standard Dungeon Delver amount) whilst simultaneously keeping your pants up.
  • Gloves: A good pair of gardening or woodworking gloves will keep your hands warm while protecting them. I also have a kevlar oven mitt, because you never know when you may need to pick up something very hot. In fact, I should probably get another just to have a matching set.
  • Vest/Jacket: The safari/ tactical/ hunting vest has tons and tons of pockets and you can get one practically anywhere. I recommend one made with ripstop fabric and ventilation mesh.
  • Cloak: The modern version of this is a poncho. It keeps you dry and warm-ish. You can get one at any department store, and there are cheap pocket (disposable) versions that cost less than a dollar.
  • Scarf: Oh, a scarf has a dozen uses aside from keeping your neck and face warm. It can be used as a sling, a rope, a bandage, a bandana... it's like a towel from the Hitchiker's books. I went a bit higher-tech and got a black sniper veil, because it makes a wonderful accessory when I go to goth clubs.
  • Hat: The ever-popular boonie hat has a wide brim, a chin strap, and if you got the good kind, is waterproof. (If not, waterproof it tout suite.)
Sensible and logical conversions, but this list is missing a few things. You also need:
  • At least three days worth of socks and underwear, kept in a waterproof bag. Because sweetheart, you don't know misery until you've been in the driving rain for 8 hours and you have no dry clothes to change into as you struggle to keep warm.
  • A mylar survival blanket. Get this at the same time you're getting the disposable poncho and put them in the same pocket. You can also get this in the sleeping bag and tent versions as well. You may rightly call me paranoid, but I have all three.
  • A magnesium fire starter, because if Survivor has taught us anything it is "Fire is Life."
All right! You are now properly attired to dance the Apocalypso.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dog Days

I would like to apologize for my lack of posting. I have not been eaten by a zombie.

Instead, we are dealing with the introduction of a second dog into our household --yes, mom saved another from the pound. His name is Henry, and he is an older (between 7 and 10 years old) German Shepherd.

We didn't name him Henry, he came that way. Now we have 2 boy dogs, both named after candy bars, whose names begin with H. This is why I say my life is governed by patterns.

Naturally, there is some degree of Doggie Drama as both dogs adapt to the presence of the other, and new routines and behaviors are learned. Henry is a sweet and quiet dog, and likes to curl up next to me as I work at the computer, but there are some... issues... with how he relates to puppy Heath. This means keeping an eye out for potential trouble and stopping it before it occurs, and since Heath has the energy of a toddler, it's pretty exhausting.

More Z Kit posts later this week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why no gun? (Z Kit)

So, Demonic Bunny and a couple other readers have mentioned guns of some sort, and no doubt many of you are wondering what kind of heat I recommend packing in case of apocalypse.

I'm going to say "None," but hear me out on this.

Guns are useful. Guns are neat. I like guns. I own guns. But I don't think they have a place in a kit like this, for a variety of reasons:
  1. They are expensive, and everything in this series of posts is obtainable by the average citizen. The priciest part of this kit was the bag itself, with the kukri a close second. This is why you also won't see neat-but-costly things like GPS transcievers or satellite phones. If you can afford these things, more power to you. I won't tell you that you're wrong for having them.
  2. Guns require ammunition. Ammunition runs out. A gun without ammunition is pretty worthless.
  3. Ammunition, and most guns, are heavy. A rifle or shotgun is heavy and awkward, and yes, I've humped an 80 lb. rucksack with an M-16 for miles as part of my ROTC experience, so I know of which I speak.
  4. Guns often draw the wrong sort of attention. I once got fired from a job for mentioning the fact that I'd rather be home cleaning my guns. In an emergency, people will be hysterical and the police overworked. I'm not giving anyone a reason to detain, arrest, or shoot me.
  5. Perhaps most importantly, if I want to have this bag with me on a regular basis when I leave the house (and an emergency kit left at home is rather useless when you're not at home), I can't have a gun in it. I'm a bit vague on Florida's concealed carry laws here and I don't want to experience them firsthand. There are also the considerations that A) a Concealed Carry pistol belongs in a holster, not an oversized purse, and B) if said pack ever got stolen, there's all kinds of legal trouble involved if my now-stolen gun is used to commit a crime.

All that said, if I were to suggest a pistol, I am rather fond of the Smith & Wesson .40 M&P: Single stack, which is good for my tiny hands; 15 rounds; beefy caliber which nearly guarantees a knockdown.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Know what you don't know (Z Kit)

All right. Zombies are rising from their graves in search of living flesh, it's the end of the world as you know it, and you have a trusty utility blade. Now what do you do?

That, as Han Solo said, is the real trick, because what you do is any number of things, dependent upon any number of other things. And try as you might, you can't plan for every contingency and know what to do in every single situation, because you are not the goddamn Batman.

Instead, to be particularly zen about it, you need to know what you don't know, by which I mean "Know the categories in which you are deficient." Once you do that, you can assemble the knowledge you will need but do not possess. (Being able to access this information during the apocalypse is in itself a difficult task that is sadly outside the purview of this particular article. I leave it as an exercise for the apt pupil.)

I personally swear by two books: the Pocket Ref and the SAS Survival Handbook.

The Pocket Ref is small. It's about the same size as a pack of cigarettes -- you can easily fit it into a shirt pocket -- and it is dense with information, most of it technical and formulaic. If you're an dataphile like me, the sheer breadth and depth of interesting and useful information is enough to make you drool. Check the table of contents to see for yourself. There is so much neat shit in here that I don't know where to begin. I mean, just look at what is in under the General Science chapter:
Temperature Conversions °F-°C
Sound Intensities
Human Body Composition
Body Weight vs. Height
Physical Growth % - Boys
Physical Growth %$- Girls
Acceleration Due to Gravity
Beaufort Wind Strength Scale
Wind Chill Factors
Heat - Humidity Factors
Firewood/Fuel Heat Comparisons
Frequency Spectrum
Sun and Planetary Data
This is the book that carries the Adam Savage Seal of Approval: "It's got everything in it... It should be in everyone's toolbox." I don't know when or where or even if I would need a tenth of this, but since math has never been my strong suit it's good to know this tiny tome is here to cover my back.

You can order the Pocket Ref for $13 direct from the publisher.

This book, on the other hand, is huge. It's about 8x5" and one inch thick, with pages that feel more like very thin vinyl than paper. It's also rather heavy -- I don't have a scale small enough to measure it, but I know I could beat a small rodent to death with it.

EDIT: The shipping weight of this mighty tome is 1.8 pounds. Yikes.

Like the Pocket Ref, it is also dense with information, and reminds me of nothing less than a Boy Scout/Girl Scout camping manual, but with all of the propaganda taken out and replaced with even more information. If you're a fan of Bear Grylls, you'll love this book. I bought mine on Amazon.

Both of these books live in my Z Kit, inside a small dry bag. I actually have three of those: the small one is around a critical piece of electronics, the larger one contains 3 days supply of socks and underwear, and the largest holds these books, a radio, and some batteries. I don't have a brand name to recommend to you, but I do know, based from the experience of not having one, that a bag with a self-purging seal is well worth the money.

These are the two books I would take with me if I had to live on a deserted island, or stranded in the past. However, I welcome any recommendations of other books my readers feel are both useful and information-dense.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Utility Blade addendum

I forgot to mention this in Friday's post, but it's crucial: Make sure your utility blade has a decent handle. The best tool in the world won't do you any good if you can't comfortably grip it.

(Insert obligatory "That's what she said!" here.)

Sadly, the Cold Steel Kukri fails in this regard. If you watched the entire "Test to destruction" series I posted, you'll see that it has a full tang, which is awesome, but it has this diamond-knurled kraton handle which, at least in my tiny hands, is way too big to comfortably grip. Ironically, the checkering is uncomfortable to my palm without providing adequate friction (again, TWSS), so it feels like it's gonna slip out of my grip with every swing.

I originally addressed this problem with duct tape wrapped around the grip, and it worked adequately, but it was ugly and wrinkled and left sticky residue everywhe--


Oi, you in the back! If you're going to keep sniggering like that I'll turn this post right around!

Anyway. Nathan, my internet little brother (Hi Nathan!) heard my plight and recommended this to me:

The Limbasver Tentacle Grip (in black and camo)

Naturally, mine is black.

What's ironic is that this particular wrap cost more than the actual kukri itself! But don't think of that as an indictment against the Cold Steel kukri machete. This is not throwing good money after bad, this is making an already awesome product perfect. And just for the record, I'm not getting paid anything to promote any of these products.

But I have to say, this thing is fantastic. It insulates against the cold, absorbs shock (and there is a lot of shock when you're chopping things) and best of all the sticky little rubber suction cups practically glue the handle to my palm like I was a Japanese schoolgirl in a hentai anime.

So... yeah. When you're swinging your tool with all your might, you don't want to lose or break it due to a small, sweaty grip. Use big black tentacle wraps and your palm will never leave your tool again.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Utility Blade (Z Kit)

I realize I'm going to sound like a cliché here, but the best survival tool you can possibly possess is a good, strong knife. (Blah blah blah will to live, blah blah blah your brain, blah blah blah optimism. I'm talking about tools, not attributes.) Now, a lot has been said about multi-tools like Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman Tools, and they do have their place in any decent Z Kit -- in fact, I have both -- but if I had to pick one and only one item in my kit, it would be my Kukri Machete.

I have the smaller blade on the left -- and by smaller I mean it's only eighteen inches long. If you want to feel like a Spartan warrior or are simply overcompensating for a small penis, get the 22-inch Magnum.

The Kukri, as you can see, is kind of a combination axe and sword -- more like a combat meat cleaver, than anything else -- and it can do a lot of tasks:
Despite usage in the military, the kukri is most commonly used as a woodcutting and general purpose tool, and is a very common agricultural and household implement in Nepal... the kukri is most commonly employed as a multi-use utility tool, rather like a machete. It can be used for building, clearing, chopping firewood, digging, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning and also for opening tins.
So what we have here is a tool that is allegedly very, very good at chopping, slicing, and thwacking, and can do all sorts of other things at various levels of competency. (Admittedly, if you want to dig a hole, a shovel is better than a kukri, but a kukri is far better than your hands.) Naturally, there are the twin questions of Cost and Durability, i.e. "Is it worth my hard-earned cash." These are legitimate concerns, as there are some hellishly expensive kukris out there, and some that are made of really cheap 420 stainless steel (which is good for steak knives and not much else). In response, let me say this:
  1. I bought mine for $23.50 including S&H from Your Corner Store. (Edited 7/3/2015: now available for $20 at Amazon)
  2. It's made from 1055 high-carbon steel, which isn't the sharpest in the world but is very, very durable. This is what farming implements are made from, and it's designed for strength and impact resistance.
  3. OH NO NOT THE CONCRETE! Kukri wins.... fatality! If it can chop through a block of concrete, you just KNOW it will take off a zombie's head (or hand, or arm, or...)
So as you can see, you get quite a lot of bang for not a lot of buck.

Do I need to mention how this fits into D&D?
Kukri8 gp1d31d418–20/x22 lb.Slashing

(Although really, I have to take exception to that puny 1d4 damage. Even without talking about differences in metallurgy, it's at least comparable to an axe in damage, which is 1d6.)

There you have it. A cheap, durable, reliable blade that fits easily into a pack, will easily decapitate a zombie, can support your weight and survive all the abuse you can throw at it as it performs tasks it was never meant to do.

If you can't see why this is my #1 item in my Z Kit, there's no reasoning with you.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Introducing the Z Kit

This post is probably going to wander all over the place for a bit, so bear with me.

A while back, I commented on my love for gadgets and my desire to keep them with my laptop in what I called a Rob Liefeld Bag: all pouches and flaps and zippers and compartments so that each tool and gewgaw could nest in its own cozy little bed. I was all set to get this bag, and then when I was ready to order one it turned out the price had gone up. It wasn't by much, but when combined with shipping & handling it reached the critical tipping point known as "Screw this, I'll go to Target and get my #2 choice," which, as luck would have it, just happened to be on sale that weekend.

Behold my Rob Liefeld Bag: the Swissgear SA9259. It didn't have everything that I ever wanted in a bag, but it has some nice features:
  1. Padded laptop sleeve
  2. Padded back with airflow system (this is Florida, sweat is a fact of life here)
  3. The ability to completely swallow a 1-liter bottle in each of its side zippered pockets
  4. Lots of pouches and flaps and zippers
  5. And of course, it was here and on sale.
So, yeah. It carries stuff (seriously... a LOT of stuff), looks sufficiently Liefeldian, and balances nicely on my shoulders. It even holds all my crap with room to spare. Problem solved, case closed, right?

If you thought it would be that easy, just slap yourself now, because you so don't know me. I am Miss Complication.

The problem, you see, was that I realized I could fit a lot more crap in there, and make it much more useful. I could, in fact, turn the RLB into my James Bond Kit Mark II. (Because if it's useful now, then cramming it with twice as much crap makes it twice as useful, and that's logic.) So, amused by this notion, I added all my doohickeys. And I still had room.

And that, doctor, is how the madness began, because not long after that I started to develop... I don't know, "compulsion" is too harsh a word, so let's try "lust" instead ... to make this bag as optimal as possible for any contingency. Somewhere during this hobby-madness, I realized that what I was actually creating was what some call a Bug-Out Bag or a Go-Bag, but if that was the case then what am I doing with a Kukri Machete and snare wire? Do I chalk this up to having watched too much Man vs. Wild and Survivorman on Discovery Channel? Am I basically a bored hobbyist with too much free time on her hands, and losing myself in the creation of this kit is my way of dealing with loss and depression?

Well, yeah, that would be the reasonable assumption. It's probably even the correct diagnosis. But that doesn't feel geeky enough for my tastes, and so I offer you this alternate viewpoint: Somewhere along the way I realized that I was assembling a modern-day version of the classic Dungeon Delver backpack, complete with Iron Rations (MREs), torches (flashlight) and flint & steel (magnesium firestarter). Which is much cooler, and explains a lot, because I am the type of person who, upon gaining a Handy Haversack of Heward in a game of D&D, will immediately work out how much I can carry and where ("Ooh! I can fit an entire tent in the left side pocket! I'll do just that!"), partly because I've had strict and lethal DM's of both the "If it's not written down you can't have it" and "I can't believe you actually fit that in there, let me see your volume assignments" variety, and partly because it's a fun mini-game.

(Also, I once stuffed a dead PC halfling into the main pocket, and that was worth a few giggles. )

But, it could be argued, why am I making a Dungeon Delve kit when there are no nearby dungeons into which I could delve, and indeed even if there were, would I so do? (No.) And then the meaning to my madness was revealed to me. You see, what I was really making was a Zombie Survival Kit.

Yes, I really am that big of a dork.

However, let me qualify myself before you think too poorly of me. Do I really think the undead will rise from their graves to devour the living? No. However, a kit which is designed for surviving an undead apocalypse will also serve admirably in event of natural disaster (Florida has tons of them) or terrorist attack (God forbid).

And that's why I listen to those little nagging voices in the back of my head, folks. Because even if I'm wrong, this is a good thing to have. Even if I lose interest in building the perfect Z Kit, it will still be good if I ever need it.

And perhaps most importantly, it gives me blogfodder that I can stretch out over days, maybe even a week, as I talk about the various aspects of my Z Kit, and how it relates to both D&D and modern survival. Because I'm passionate about this, I can use it to pad my postcount while still passing it off as a "legitimate" blog post.

Tomorrow: My Cold Steel Kukri Machete, aka "Why I don't need a poleaxe to kill zombies." (I still crave it, though.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WNW: It's not a cheese shop

This is neat because it's a cool segue between things we were talking about (poleaxes) and things I plan to talk about next (survival kits and D&D).

Also, it's just plain awesome.

(Order of the Stick is copyright Rich Burlew. Click here to embiggen.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Existential Axe

Dammit, I want this.

I really, really, REALLY want it. It's even on sale. I can afford it. But here's the thing...

... I don't need it. I have no use for it. There is no reason I would ever need a poleaxe. I can't even claim that I could use it in gardening. For that, the guisarme is a far superior choice, since it's a pruning hook on a long pole. And I'm just non-girly enough to feel that tools are meant to be used, not simply kept.

But oh, how I covet this.

Help me make up my mind, blogosphere. If you feel I should get it, please give me a good concrete reason why. Don't just say "Because it's awesome" because, duh, I know it's awesome. I need a practical reason to get it.

Or better yet, convince me that I don't need it. That works too.

Still... *droooools*

Monday, June 1, 2009

Home is where the arf is

It's good to be back. Not only because it's good to have the desire to write once more, but also because many of you missed me. I am pleased, as this means the subliminal indoctrination protocols I've been running with each blog post have finally started to show some results.

Since I've been gone nearly a month, I feel you deserve some explanation of what I was doing in that time. The answer, sadly, is "not a hell of a lot." I was depressed at having to put my dog down, and even more depressed at the fact that, for the first time in decades, there were no dogs in the house at all. (Back in 2005, we had three of them, and they all had to be put down due either cancer or age-related illnesses.)

Let me tell you, when you're used to having a dog, a dogless house is spooky quiet. It really hit me hardest when I would come home from an errand, and not have a four-legged friend happy to see me. If this is what it's like for parents when their children leave home, then I understand empty-nest syndrome a heck of a lot better than I did before.

Speaking of parents... wow, if you thought I took it hard, my mother was nearly wrecked. I spent a lot of time in my room just to be away from her, because she was upset and prone to tears. Crying is a lot like vomiting in that, once you see someone do it, it's hard not to do it yourself.

So yeah, I was in my room a lot, and because I was depressed or headachey or both, I ended up taking a lot of naps. Which is fine, except that it screwed my sleep schedule to hell and back. I would find myself going to bed at 4 am, getting up at 10, then taking a nap sometime between 4 and 6 pm and sometimes sleeping at late as 8 pm. Then I'd get up, eat dinner, and start the whole thing all over again.

One good thing to come out of this mess is that I discovered something interesting about my body chemistry: I think I'm slightly hypoglycemic, and the reason I'm so damn tired in the morning is because my body is crashing. The irony of the situation is that even though I don't feel hungry, I desperately need food. So no more sleeping through supper for me! In fact, I've started eating dinner between 4 and 5 pm, and supplementing that with a boost of caffiene (small cup of coffee or 8 oz soda) just to get me through the evening. Armed with this new information, hopefully my biorhythms will stop yo-yoing and I can be productive again with a consistent schedule.

Again, big thank-you's to everyone who stuck with me during this period.

But now I have some good news to share. As of Saturday night, there is a new puppy in the house!

This is Heath. Isn't he adorable? You may now all go "D'awwwww!"

We adopted him from Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. They are the nation's largest no-kill animal sanctuary and they do fantastic work. Even though we had to pay to have him shipped here, he came with all his shots, pre-neutered (sorry guys) and with rudimentary obedience training! This is simply the best dog we've ever owned, and he is only 4 months old. Truly, this is the Cadillac of puppies.

Regarding the name: He was originally called Joker 2 at Best Friends, and we didn't like that name. So we decided to name him after Heath Ledger instead. The name is apt, as he's a little Casanova! All the girls at the vet office were coming over to him, cooing as they petted him. (Guys, if you want to meet girls, get a puppy and go to a dog park. Any women there will fall over themselves to pet the widdle puppeh, and you end up looking like a strong, nurturing provider.)

Also, he kinda looks like a Heath Bar. ;)

We don't know exactly what his pedigree is. He's at least half German Shepherd -- when he's upside down and his ears are "up", you can see the Shepherd face quite clearly -- but the other parts are unknown. I personally suspect there's a fair amount of Rottweiler in him, based on his coloration (especially the face).

For those folks who want to see more ridiculously adorable puppy pics, check out my photostream at Twitpic.

So anyway... with a cute widdle puppeh in da hizzouse, my energy levels are up, and I'm more inclined to write. Nothing like random puppy antics to give me the motivation to write about KK, the LOLcatgirl assassin you guys love, hate, or love to hate. :)

In conclusion: I haz a hotdog.

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