Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ow ow ow

Fucking OW.

You guys know I have headaches because of allergies and sinus problems, right? That means whenever there is a significant change in atmospheric pressure, my skull acts like a barometer and hurts like a motherfucker because the air inside the sinus cavities can't escape and equalize. My head is quite literally trying to explode.

So, take a look at this link and just guess how I feel. Go on, guess. Yes, that is damn near the entire state of Florida covered in clouds, with a Tropical Storm bearing down on us, thanks for noticing.

I woke up this morning feeling like P. Diddy (head throbbing and hungover, only without having been drinking yesterday) and the suckage has continued all day. If you can't imagine what it's like to have a headache for 18 hours, I envy your innocence.

It is at this point I understand why people drill holes in their heads.

Hopefully tomorrow will suck less and I can post something of substance. Until then, thank you for your patience, and I appreciate the hugs I have received through comments and emails as a result of yesterday's post. Thank you very much.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Me Monday

I didn't post at all last week, and to be perfectly honest I'm a bit hurt no one even noticed.

So here's the thing: My splint came off last week -- huzzah! -- and immediately my Occupational Therapist (don't call her a Physical Therapist, oh no, she will cut you if you do) started laughing wickedly and began implementing all sorts of sadistic exercises for me to do with my thumb and hand. Most of these involved machines and weights and at least one contraption which I swear once belonged to Torquemada.

So anyway, for fir first few days my hand was really tired and sore and I didn't want to write. Okay, fine. But by about Wednesday, the inertia began to kick in: "Well, I really should write, but I've already missed a few days, so there's no big rush or anything, I'll post when I get around to it..."  In case you hadn't noticed, this is procrastination, my friends, and it is one of my worst enemies.

By the end of the week, though, I was starting to get a bit depressed, because I hadn't posted all week, and it looked like I wouldn't get to it, and why hadn't anyone noticed I wasn't posting? Didn't people miss me and care enough to ask if I was all right and would I post soon? Because as I have said before, I desire constant adulation from my readers.

Now logically, I understand that you folks are busy with your lives, and you probably read this blog through an RSS updater or email or Google Friend Connect, and you just didn't notice that I wasn't updating as often as I used to because you have lives and you were reading the blogs that actually did manage to update in a regular, professional manner. I understand that. But depression ain't rational, folks, and sometimes I just need a hug.

The reason I am writing this isn't because I love to complain (although that is a true fact). It's because I don't really feel like writing anything today, but I realize that I need to write something today in order to make it easier to write something worthwhile tomorrow. It's also a request for help from me to you: if you notice I haven't been around for a while, please drop me a line and let me know that you care I am missing.

Some days I just need a hug.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pellatarrum: Navigation

Navigation upon Pellatarrum's surface is both easier and more difficult than in our real world. For example, concepts such as "North" are meaningless when you consider the surface of the world is a disc of infinite radius rotating about a spindle of infinite height. However, given the immensity of the Dayspire, its ability to be seen from any outdoor location makes it a universal (and handy) point of reference.

If you are headed towards the Dayspire, then you are facing the direction known as Dwarfward, for obvious reasons. Much like the North Star in our world, Dwarfward is a naturally occurring compass point. It can even be seen at night, as there is a faint nimbus of Positive Energy illuminating at least one of its edges, much like an aurora. (Interestingly enough, a truly skilled outdoorsman can look at the degree of radiance on either side of the Spire at night and estimate the number of hours until dawn.)

Facing Dwarfward, the direction to your right is known as Deosil, which means "sunwise" in Elven. This is the direction to face to watch the "sunrise" as the Dual Suns emerge from the vertical horizon of the Dayspire. Similarly, on your left is where the suns "set", and while the proper Elven term for this is Tuathal, "fatal," most folk know it as Widdershins, a term coined by a rakish Halfling wind-sailor long ago. Directly behind you is Wayward, which is a corruption of Away-ward, in the sense of "away-from-us-ness", but since this direction leads away from civilized lands and into danger, the definition of "willful deviation from the expected norm" is most apt.

You would think that this system would make navigation throughout Pellatarrum quite easy, but you would be wrong in that assumption. The kink here is that, when it comes to overland travel, only two of these directions  -- Dwarfward and Wayward -- are objective. Both Deosil and Widdershins are subjective points in a rotating system; specifically, they are not straight lines but are curves. Which means you can throw your Cartesian coordinate system out the window, because you can't navigate if your Y-axis is curved.

Well, okay, you could if you had a sextant and knew enough trigonometry to triangulate your position, and then triangulate your destination, and then do some math which I can't even comprehend to find some kind of vector between the two. I doubt that many people in Pellatarrum would have the knowledge of advanced mathematics to pull this off, and those who do are probably wizards, in which case it's just easier to use magic.

So here's what it boils down to: If you are just traipsing around in your local county woods, fine and dandy. But the moment you want to engage in significant overland travel without a clearly-marked road, you need one of three things:
  • a map between point A and point B, which you can use to navigate through terrain association (which is a fancy way of saying "That mountain there looks like this mountain here on the map, so we go this way"). Of course, this technique is very black box -- either you know where you are on the map or you don't, at which case it ceases to be useful;
  • significant experience between points A and B, so you can go "Oh, I remember this boulder, and just a mile past it is a game trail which takes me to a river which leads to etc..";
  • a Ranger or Druid who, due to their mystic connection with the land, can overcome this "navigational Coriolis effect" and actually lead you to where you want to go through dead reckoning and sheer ballsiness.

This last point merits some attention. Certainly, anyone can learn the Survival skill, and use it to follow tracks, hunt game, and survive in the outdoors. This much is unchanged from the rulebook. But the moment the Game Master needs to break out the rules for getting lost (page 424 in the Pathfinder Rulebook), if you are more than 10 miles from civilization and you do not have one of these two classes, you cannot roll to get un-stuck. You are lost and will probably die out there (which is why it's called wayward, after all).

And no, you cannot navigate at night using stars, because there are no stars to use. Between the Elemental Churn and the Seasonal Clock, the sky is an ever-changing mess to the untrained eye. Only Druids and Rangers, in a kind of navigational augury, can spot the few fixed points within the Elemental Planes above and use them to determine location and bearing upon the surface of Pellatarrum.

Don't fall off the map.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pellatarrum: Spring

Ahh, springtime, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts not of love, but of running away and hiding, for all the womenfolk have gone mad...

Spring in Pellatarrum, much like in this world, is equated with renewal and cleansing, but for much more obvious reasons. When the great seasonal calendar of the Dayspire ticks out of Earth and into Air, spring arrives with a great whooshing sound as torrents of Elemental Air rush down towards the Material Plane and thence outwards across the land. All of this wind creates a natural vacuum effect, sucking up the dirt and grit left behind by winter's earthfall and blowing it everywhere, which both aids in, and is the proximate cause of, Spring Cleaning.

Unfortunately, all this exposure to Elemental Air often results in mild cases of Insistence to those out and about in it, and the combination of Air Disorder, housewives in a cleaning frenzy, and the first nice day in months frequently results in men fleeing their houses to escape the madness. Unmarried men fare no better, for while the older women fixate on cleaning, the young ladies become suddenly taken with the idea of settling down and having lots of babies in a cozy home.

Lest you think me sexist, males are not immune from seasonal Insistence. Young men are often seized with fanciful notions of becoming sailors, soldiers, or adventurers, seeking fame and fortune in exotic, dangerous locales, while older men either pine for their glory days or seek to recapture them by proxy. Spring is a dangerous time when the old men plan wars, young men wage them, and (hopefully) the next generation gestates in the wombs of fresh ex-virgins.

Raging windstorms, sexual pursuit, and the lure of glorious adventure -- what better way to begin a career?

Halfling Wind-Caravans
The villages at the base of the Dayspire are particularly vulnerable to windstorms in the spring due to the vortexes created by the junction of mountain and plain, and even during other seasons the wind gusts near-constantly down the spire's infinite slopes.This has resulted in most of these becoming halfling and gnome settlements -- their buried homes are immune to all but the strongest of these storms.

Not coincidentally, halfling children from this area are ace kite-flyers, and many have grown up to have stellar careers in transportation. The half-folk have invented a form of sail-driven wagon (a prairie schooner in the most literal sense of the word) which they use to great effect during the spring to circle the Dayspire's impressive circumference. In addition to offering rapid transit for messages and passengers, they also use larger versions of these wagons to deliver trade goods to various markets and ports-of-call which ring the spire and serve as both buffer zones and customs-control for the dwarven city-state beyond.

(If you do not have in your head the image of great halfling-built Conestoga wagons, with full sails and rigging reminiscent of a Spanish Galleon, wheeling around a giant mountain as barefooted land-sailors scamper about the ropes and talking in West Country dialect, I have not done my job properly.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Night WTF

Speaking of insanity....

Adam Savage of Mythbusters linked to this on Twitter. If you're scared of heights like I am, you will probably find this uncomfortable. I was practically screaming at the guy to put on his safety clip for about half of this movie.

It's just... ohmigod. You could not pay me enough to do this job. As one of the commenters said, "I would prefer to shit my pants."

EDIT: Apparently the video was taken down for weaksauce reasons. From the OLE blog:
I sent out an email this weekend advertising a new video about tower climbing. It was a great video and I wish I could show it to you but the person I got it from expressed some concerns about how it reflected on the tower industry and ask me to take it down. So I did.

Bah, humbug.

EDIT 2 ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: Thanks to the internet regarding censorship as damage and routing around it, another video has been set up. Let's see how long this one lasts.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pellatarrum: Meditations on Elemental Nature

In the wake of my discussions about Insanity in Pellatarrum, a friend of mine asked why I chose Insistence for Air when, to him, Air represented freedom and flight and creativity and not compulsive behavior.

What it comes down to is that I looked at each element and what I felt was its base nature. Once I had established a feel for it, I matched it to a mental illness with a similar feel.

Fire and Earth were pretty simple. Fire is inherently destructive, so it's easy to pair with violent tendencies. Earth tends not to move (earthquakes and avalanches notwithstanding), so illnesses like autism are a perfect fit.

Water was a bit trickier. Because it's so mutable it was difficult to define, until I realized that its inherent mutability was its definition. Water doesn't like to be picked up or contained or held: it always seeks a way out, seeping through the earth and leaking through your fingers and corroding or eroding whatever is in its path. And since I had already established fire as destructive, it made sense to me that water was cowardice and its constant flowing was it attempting to escape.

Air is insistent because air gets into everything. Everything. It is in your lungs, it is in caves below the ground, it is in the smoke rising from the fire, it is even in sea foam. Give air just the tiniest opening and BAM, it is there, man. It wants to be there, it has to be there, and by golly it will be there. You can't keep it out. You can't touch it or hold it but you need it to survive. Unless you're aquatic, air is that stuff you move through. Air is everything else that isn't the ground you walk you walk on or the water you sail on.
Sounds pretty damn insistent to me, and if you know people with OCD, you realize how well this fits. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tiny Sutures

I am a big fan of Howard Tayler's Schlock Mercenary. Last Sunday he had the following strip (follow this link so you don't have to squint to read the text):

The phrase "tiny sutures" really stuck with me for a reason which will become apparent in a moment. I regret that it took me four days to come up with this, but now, with apologies to both Howard Tayler and Don Ho, I present...

Tiny sutures (tiny sutures )
In my eye (In my eye)
Make me happy (make me happy)
Make me not die (make me not die)

Tiny sutures (tiny sutures)

It's not rocket science
Oh, Tailor, aren't you gonna
Sew some beauties in my eye?

So here is an injury

You have a chance to shine
Why don't you get a-stitching
In my brain?

Tiny sutures (tiny sutures)
In my eye (In my eye)
Make me happy (make me happy)
Make me not die (make me not die)

Tiny sutures (tiny sutures)
It's not rocket science
Oh, Tailor, aren't you gonna
Sew some beauties in my eye?

If you aren't familiar with the tune, I have provided it here for your convenince. Please forgive me for not attempting to filk the Hawaii'an lyrics.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pellatarrum: Insanity, part 3

Mania is a curious condition because, unlike all the others listed, it is not looked down upon by society. In fact, in places where the Church of the Light holds sway, it is considered to be a mark of blessing to be one of the "The Inspired," for they emulate the Church's ideals: enthusiasm, energy, the will and desire to create. It is very, very easy to become manic in Pellatarrum, because all it requires is to be exposed to too much Positive Energy, and the Church of the Light encourages such exposure. Sunbathers, farmers, and anyone who works outdoors in the daylight radiance are all possible candidates for Inspiration (especially if they work in/near an area which has been consecrated or hallowed [as per the spells], or is otherwise a Node for Positive Energy), but the most commonly afflicted are those who are exposed to healing energies: Clerics, Paladins, and those who regularly receive healing (usually adventurers). Therefore, while it is not uncommon to have an Inspired artist or laborer, it is practically a requirement for high-ranking Church members, where their passion (unfortunately) runs to extremes in the form of crusades and inquisitions.

Inspiration is never publicly considered to be a bad thing; however, family members who are forced to endure the constant manic whirlwind often quietly wish for some peace and quiet, if only for a little while, and that is when the Cultists of the Dark frequently show up and offer some "relief" to the family, usually with the same results as when the Bleak are treated by Clerics of the Light. They often gain repeat customers in this manner, and the Dark's hold over them slowly strengthens* with each application.

*Usually in the form of blackmail, but actual corruption is not uncommon.

Side note: Regardless of how it happens, what we would call manic-depression or bipolar disorder is all too common in Pellatarrum. Sandwiched between the Life-Sun and Death-Sun, the world of the Prime Material is itself rather bipolar. Indeed, it could be argued that it is perfectly natural to become depressed at night, when death and ruin reign supreme, and to become energized when daylight comes. Looking at it in terms of environmental adaptation, this kind of crazy might just make perfect sense.

Withdrawal is the Earth Disorder, and it exemplifies the worst stereotypes (however true they may be) of Dwarves: sullenness, apathy, lack of passion or compassion, and a preference for isolation that ranges from antisocial isolationism to full-blown autism. Contrary to the other disorders, even among Dwarven society "The Petrified" are considered abnormal at all but the lowest levels; Dwarves are communal and industrious, and anyone who wants to be alone and apart from his clan -- or worst of all, without any desire to work -- is considered fundamentally broken and in need of immediate help. Petrification can be subtle, especially among the Dwarves, who are known to brood over their latest craft before performing the next step. Many have been found at their forges or tables, lost in contemplation of a gem or a sword, by their fellows the next morning.* Petrification is treated by application of Elemental Air to the nose and mouth, which insistently "breathes new life" into the static nature of the withdrawn, but in a pinch any burst of moving air (such as from a bellows) will do. 

*This is precisely why Dwarves are so communal -- it's a necessity for survival. Any Dwarf who works alone runs the risk of becoming severely Withdrawn and then dying of dehydration.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pellatarrum: Insanity, part 2

Despondence is The Darkness, and those who suffer from it are called "The Bleak," for all forms of nihilism are theirs: depression, fatalism, pessimism, morbidity, suicide. They have been exposed to the Darkness, aka Negative Energy, and so are overwhelmed with negative emotions and self-destructive desires. Treatment for the Bleak is remarkably easy: get them outside into the radiance of the Life-Sun, or relegate them to brightly lit rooms with many windows. In extreme cases, Priests of the Light can channel Positive Energy into these afflicted, curing them of their melancholy.

... temporarily. Because you can never truly defeat the darkness with light, nor light with darkness; one defines the other. While an infusion of positive energy is great for cheering someone up, if they are truly, deeply, chronically depressive, then all the priest has done is turn a depressive into a manic-depressive. Many Cultists of the Dark are Bleak, which is why a fair amount of them turn to necromancy and consort with the undead. The only treatment they are likely to receive is a swift death at the hands of a Paladin of the Light.

Insistence, the Air Disorder, is better known as "The Dragon's Way," referencing the way in which dragons become increasingly set in their ways as they age: obsessively counting their hoards, ritualistically turning widdershins thrice before lying down, speaking in sentences of precisely eighteen syllables, repeating a menial yet complex task (such as treasure-polishing) until it is done "properly", etc. In addition to obsessive-compulsive disorders, the Dragon-touched are also subject to excessively consumptive behavior such as eating until one vomits (and then eating again), hoarding, kleptomania, and other forms of greed and gluttony. It is important to note that these behaviors are not motivated by evil intent ("I will steal from others because I want to deprive them") or even by conscious desire ("It is valuable and therefore I must own it"); instead it is a far more visceral and urgent compulsion of  "I must do this, therefore I will do this!"

Common belief is that these actions spring not from fear or desire, but from flights of whimsy which, when left unchecked, grow like a spring thunderstorm: first they are little breezes, but soon they become roaring tornadoes which wander randomly and consume everything in their path. Treatment for the Dragon-Touched involves ritual bathing and immersion in Elemental Water, in the belief that as water always seeks to run away, it will wash away the Air which has become stuck and stale within the afflicted.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pellatarrum: Insanity, part 1

For those who came in late: Pellatarrum is a D&D campaign world I am creating which has recurring themes of elementalism, zany pseudo-clockwork universes, and older races creating servitor races which rebel against them.

Most modern fantasy games seek to emulate a magical version of the Middle Ages, a time when mental illness was considered a form of demonic possession. And to be fair about it, exorcisms are far more interesting than psychotherapy and medication, so most fantasy tropes take this concept and run with it. Taken to its obvious and logical conclusion, you end up with the Cthulhu Mythos, n-dimensional entities who are so fundamentally alien their mere existence causes madness and are to blame for all sorts of deviant behavior.

But there are no demons in Pellatarrum to possess people. In fact, there are no Outer Planes at all, having been destroyed in a cosmic götterdämmerung millions of years ago. So then, you may well ask, how does mental illness originate in Pellatarrum in a way that is both internally consistent and provides story hooks?

The answer is simple, but much like with physics, you must first throw out everything you think you know about mental health, because psychology is another kind of science and you know Pellatarrum's stance on science.* Instead of a detailed breakdown on what is a mood disorder versus what is an organic brain disorder, madness is based upon over-exposure to the various energy and elemental planes which surround and affect the Material Plane, and can be broken down into 6 major categories of Elemental Disorder:
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Despondence
  • Insistence
  • Mania
  • Withdrawal
There are too many to detail in one post, so I shall do these two at a time.

Aggression is caused by too much exposure to Elemental Fire. At low levels this is merely being "hot-headed" or having a "hot-temper", but increasing amounts of Fire Disorder result in what is known as "The Burning":  violent paranoia, homicidal urges, and berserker rages. This is considered normal behavior among Orcs, which is to be expected, since they all originated from the Plane of Elemental Fire. (In fact, each form of Elemental Disorder is considered a typical behavior for its native race.)

Typical treatment for the Burned is to expose the subject to large quantities of earth, the element of winter and stability, in order to "cool him off". Folk remedies often involve burying the Burned up to his neck in the dirt for 24 hours. If the malady persists and Elemental Earth cannot be summoned, the individual is either locked in a cool, dark cell until he recovered, or is exiled to a cold region. Water is usually avoided in all but the most extreme cases, as the intent is to restore the Burned to normalcy, not quench their passion entirely and replace it with fear (see Anxiety, below). In extreme circumstances, of course, often the only recourse is a swift public execution.

Anxiety is the Water Disorder, and it runs the full spectrum from mild neurosis to full-blown phobias, fugues, and other dissociative states. Much like water will seek any crack or weakness in an attempt to escape, so too does the mind of the afflicted. It does not like to be held or constrained, and instead attempts to flee at the first opportunity. Violent only if prevented from fleeing what they fear, those afflicted with "The Drowning" are dangerous only to themselves and to those foolish enough to attempt to save them.  Wood Elves a famous for their phobias: the most common seem to be agoraphobia, claustrophobia, nosophobia (fear of disease), and xenophobia. The other races do not often interact with Sea Elves, but to a one they all seem to suffer from terraphobia, the fear of dry land.

Treatment is difficult as the Drowned are experts at fleeing and avoiding that which they fear, but when they can be caught and prevented from injuring themselves, they are exposed to fire in an attempt to evaporate the excess water within them (sweating and fearful urination are seen as signs of progress toward recovery) and hopefully re-ignite their courage. Sadly, what often begins as simple proximity to a fire pit or imprisonment within a sweat lodge often results in injuries and deaths from dehydration, burns, and violence from family members insistent upon "burning the fear out of them."

As a point of interest, scholars are baffled by those who suffer from fear of the water, as it seems contrary  to reason that having too much of an element within one's self would result in fear of that same element. The closest they can come to explaining it is to point to the extreme cultural divide between the Sea Elves and the Wood Elves and assume the explanation lies therein as a form of "self-loathing".

*Its unofficial motto is "Fuck science. Fuck it up the ass."

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