Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WNW: Guns n' Wookies

This seems to be making the viral video rounds. Happy Geek Day, everyone!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cogs & Complexity

(An idea borne from an off-the-cuff discussion with Barking Alien earlier this evening.)

The problem with revised editions of games is that they frequently revise too much. Most RPG engines -- the crunchy bits of core mechanics which make the game run, hence the term -- start off with a very simple idea:
  • "Roll a d20 and beat a number."
  • "Add up your stat + skill and roll that many dice."
  • "Pick a card."

Of course, an engine by itself is useless. You need wheels to make the car move. You need axles to attach the wheels. You need a transmission to get power to the wheels. You need a frame to hold everything together.

What inevitably happens, though, is that what is needed to make an RPG work is often inundated with optional rules and fiddly bits. Now don't get me wrong, I like fiddly bits in my games, because they usually give me a finer degree of control over my character, either in generation or in play. But they aren't necessary. The fact that Holmes-level D&D is thriving in the OSR while the far more complex Pathfinder and 4e D&D are on shelves is a testament to that fact.

As this complex game grows, it accumulates levels of complexity, much like Katamari Damacy. Whether this is good or bad depends on your philosophy, but it's a fact of life (and marketing) that games which are actively being sold and played experience regular growth of rules. Eventually, the system reaches a point where the core game is lost under the sheer weight of all the expansion and supplements. I call this "splat bloat," but there are other names associated with it.

Once a system reaches splat bloat, the clock starts ticking for a new edition of the game. Sometimes this is because the customer base decides that enough is enough and stops buying the books; sometimes this is because the system is so massive that the writers and editors can't keep track of everything and either put out products which contradict each other, or else spend so much time referring to old material to make sure contradictions don't happen that most of their energy is spent in research instead of writing.

The problem with revisions is that they often revise too much. Sometimes, in the name of simplicity and accessibility for new readers, they revise the soul right out of the game. (Insert snark about your edition wars in your system of choice here. My personal selection is Mutants & Masterminds 2e. )

But instead of endless revisionism, why don't we attack the root of the problem instead of sawing at its branches? To whit: The game is only as complex as you allow it to be.

As BA so succinctly put it, "The first time you read a RPG rulebook, you assume it's full of rules." It is holy writ for you, and you follow it to the letter. It is only much, much later, after years of experience, that you allow yourself the heretical notion that you can "simply look at all the text and sections and subsections and decide right then and there how crunchy you think the game should be."

My proposal is that we help novice GMs and players realize this by using a form of symbolic notation to let them know which parts of the game engine are crucial and which parts are not. Continuing with the car analogy, it would be a bit like having the following notations in the rulebook:
  • "This is the carburetor. It won't work without it."
  • "This is the automatic transmission. It's nice but not strictly necessary."
  • "This is nitrous oxide. Use this only if you know what you're doing."

I envision a simple system, like a symbol of a gear in the margins. The more complex the rule or idea, the more cogs are in the gear. The heart of the engine ("Roll a d20") would have one cog. Character generation bits, such as skills or classes, would have two cogs. Tactical combat options would probably have many cogs.

This would, ideally, result in players and Game Masters realizing that not everything in a game book needs to be used all at once, and that the vast majority of RPG rules are optional.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Latest Poll Results

I should have reported this on Friday, but I was too busy screaming at the top of my lungs at all the idiots who felt the world was about to end but couldn't be bothered to RTFM. I'm still taking deep breaths and measuring my blood pressure.

Anyway, on to the results of the second poll. When I asked, "What level of support are you willing to give in order to get more Curse/Or?" the readers replied:
  1. None. The story is free, so why should I pay for it? 1 vote.
  2. I am willing to give time and effort through feedback and encouragement. 10 votes.
  3. I am willing to donate a few bucks through PayPal. 4 votes.
  4. I am willing to pre-pay through Kickstarter or some other form of ransom. 4 votes. 
To the one person who voted for option one: You're a bastard (assuming it wasn't a joke vote), but I applaud your honesty anyway. And I have to admit, I expected a lot more votes in this category. 
To the four people who voted to donate money through PayPal: Thank you. I know that some of you have done so already, and I've tried my best to thank you for that through email. If you haven't yet, but mean to, the donation button is now at the top right-hand corner for ease of use.

In fact, if you're one of the people who preferred more Pellatarrum to Curse/Or, just earmark the funds for that in the comments/instructions when you send a donation. Trust me, if money earmarked for more Pellatarrum starts trickling in, you can be sure I'll increase my schedule for it. 

If you're one of the few who offered to pre-pay though Kickstarter or some other ransom method: wow. Thank you. I didn't expect to get any votes in that category, and that it got 21% of the vote just astounds me. I've never done anything through ransom or kickstart before, however. If there's anyone out there with experience in this matter, please contact me. Heck, if you're one of these four, just email me at erin dot palette at gmail dot com so that I can pick your brains regarding what you'd expect for your money. 

And finally, though definitely not least, if you're one of the 10 people who said they would support me with encouragement and comments, I'm going to hold you to that.  Nag me if I haven't written in a while; tell me how much you're looking forward to seeing the next installment. Let me know just how excited you are about what happens next. And then, when I do post something. comment on it. Let me know what you think is awesome and what isn't; what you love and what you hate and how you might have done things differently. 

In short, as a writer, I pretty much live for feedback, and die without deadlines (or some other kind of responsibility). Praise me when I do well and hold me accountable when I don't!

Thanks for taking the time to vote. There will be another poll up by the end of the week.

Monday Gunday: Going Off the Rails

So, quick update on the status of my rifles.

Rev is still at the Gunsmith's, lying disassembled and waiting for a part. Turns out there was some kind of problem with the feed ramp (the mechanism that moves the bullet from the magazine and lifts it to meet the bolt before it can be chambered for firing), and good news, parts can still be ordered for it. The bad news? The part was supposed to be here Friday, and it wasn't, and now the gunsmith is on a two-week vacation with his relatives up north. Mutter grumble. It's a good thing there was no apocalypse this weekend, or I'd have been really put out.

Izzy still works as a rifle, but the sights are nonfunctional at the moment. With the Weaver rail shot to hell (more on that in a moment) I tried to install the old leaf sight as an interim measure, but found I didn't have the strength to depress the spring (which keeps the sight in place through pressure) with my fingers. I could probably fix it with some C-clamps, but 1) I don't own any and 2) I don't really want to buy them just for this.

So anyway. Weaver rails. For those who don't know what they are, this is what they look like:

These are handy pieces of equipment to have, because they make adding accessories like scope, lasers, flashlights etc to your weapon about as easy as putting two pieces of Lego together. (My private slang for this sort of thing is lego-tech.) Most accessories come with weaver-compatible mounts; just put them on the rail, screw it down, and you're done.

This is quite a big deal, because prior to the invention of these tactical rails, the only way to get a scope mounted was to take your gun to your armorer/gunsmith, who would sigh heavily at your request. Mounting a scope in the old days (prior to 1975) meant the gunsmith had to:
  1. Disassemble the gun
  2. Mount it in a vise
  3. Painstakingly measure the mounting holes to ensure that they would be aligned with the barrel
  4. Drill and tap holes through hardened steel
  5. Install the scope rings
  6. True the rings to each other
  7. Lap the rings if necessary
  8. Install the scope
  9. Zero the scope
  10. Reassemble the gun and make sure everything works. 
Let's just say that if any mistakes were made in steps 3-5, odds were good that the receiver of your rifle -- basically, the part that makes it into a gun, and the most expensive bit of the whole assembly -- was well and truly fucked. You can't un-drill holes, after all.

The Weaver rail changed all that. Modern guns either come with tactical rails already mounted -- some screwed into place, some as integral parts of the upper receiver -- and the rest come with grooves or holes already drilled & tapped for their installation. Overall, they're wonderful things, giving flexibility to your weapon of choice and allowing non-gunsmiths to make alterations as needed. If you need to go from precision shooting to close-combat, it's easy to remove the rifle scope and replace it with a reflex sight. Takes all of five minutes to accomplish and only requires simple tools, like a wrench.

"Easy, rugged, cheap; pick any two" is a good analysis of a lot of weapon accessories. Weaver picked "easy and cheap" and had the rails milled out of blocks of  6061 aluminum. Now that by itself isn't so bad; aluminum is light and relatively strong. A lot of airplane parts, like wings and fuselage, are made out of this particular alloy, hence why it's often known as Aircraft Aluminum. The problem is that aluminum is softer than steel.

Not a big deal, right? Answer me this: what are screws made of?

99% of the time, it's steel of some variety. And it's very, very easy to strip the internal aluminum threads with a steel screw if you over-tighten. Heck, even if you don't over-tighten it's still possible.

So when I mounted my aluminum Weaver rail to the rear sight of my Mosin-Nagant and tightly screwed it into place because I didn't want it coming loose... well, you can guess what happened.

I am reasonably sure that I didn't over-tighten the screws, but I have no way of being certain of that. What I do know is that the scope mount stayed night and tight when I was shooting 174gr rounds, but went loose and flopped around from the 180gr recoil. So either the increased recoil vibrated the steel screws, causing the aluminum threads to shear off, or they were already weakened and partially stripped from over-tightening and the recoil just finished it off.  Either way, it's ultimately my fault, because I bought the gear and installed it.

I have managed to scrape together enough money to buy a replacement scope mount. This one comes with high marks and apparently has lots of steel-on-steel fasteners. I will give it a thorough review once it comes in.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rapture Rupture

I had originally scheduled this for the weekend, but the more I thought about it the angrier I became.

You are probably aware that some Moonbat Preacher has decided that Mar 21 is when the faithful will all be raptured, and the rest of you FILTHY STINKING SINNERS will all suffer horribly from global earthquakes and other catastrophes until the world is destroyed in October, because nothing says the Second Coming of the Prince of Peace like massive devastation.

To this person -- I refuse to do him the honor of even saying his name or linking to his website -- to this alleged prophet, I have only one thing to say:
[Jesus said:]“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." 
Mark 13:32 AND Matthew 24:36
If you're still here reading this, then not only do you realize that the Moonbat Preacher's prediction of the May 21 Apocalypse is wrong, you now also know that he isn't even a good Christian, because Jesus Himself says this. Twice. The same exact phrase in two different books of the Bible. Which, I'd like to point out, doesn't happen very often.

If you believe this man, you are a fool, if for no other reason than he made this exact same claim back in 1994. If you ARE this man -- seek forgiveness now, because you aren't right with the God you claim to worship.
 “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
 — Matthew 7:15
What bothers me the most about False Prophet Psycho Moonbat isn't that he has his doctrine wrong, or that he's spreading what are essentially heresies, but that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are going to be in serious trouble on Sunday when they find themselves un-Raptured.

These are people who have spent or given away their life savings and have quit their jobs. What will they do for food on Monday? How will they provide for their families? How many have already put their pets to sleep, for God's sake?

I have to wonder how many will commit suicide, either upon realization of the scope of their mistake, or in anguish over "not being worthy of salvation." If we are extremely lucky, they will only kill themselves. There is however a great likelihood that they'll kill their families first.

There are going to be many, many lives shattered by the false claims of this egocentric, self-aggrandizing motherfucker, and I truly hope that these broken people have the wherewithal to pick themselves up, admit their mistake, and carry on with their lives.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."
—2nd Peter 2:1

And then sue the ever-loving SHIT out of this arrogant asshole. I won't be happy until he's bankrupt and his empire in ruins, because this person --- this FILTH -- actually has contingencies in place to have his radio program keep broadcasting in the event that he's still here on Sunday. So, unlike many of his followers, he has not put his money where his faith is. Come Monday, he's still going to have a job broadcasting his bile across the airwaves, and I'm certain he will have a "reasonable" explanation for it. Something along the lines of "God showed mercy because of all the faithful."

I think faith is a wonderful thing. It can inspire, guide, uplift and comfort. The problem is that when humans get their grubby little hands on good things, they become bloated, useless bad things. Faith becomes religion, and I can't think of a single instance when religion alone helped someone. All the crimes and blasphemies performed in God's name are the result of religion, not faith. This false prophecy is already a blasphemy (a heresy at the very least) and by this time next week will probably have graduated to a crime. That's crime as in "atrocity".

In conclusion: anyone who tells you when the Rapture/Apocalypse/Second Coming will occur is full of shit and is trying to sell you something. You are morally (though sadly not legally) justified in taking the largest rocks you can find and throwing said rocks at their heads.

[And the LORD said:]"But a prophet who presumes to speak in My name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death."
-- Deuteronomy 18:20

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Lurking Sound: Music for Writing

I'm not sure if this is true for anyone else, or if it's just my funky brain chemistry, but there are certain kinds of music which really help me focus on writing and get my creative juices flowing.

Apparently there is anecdotal evidence that classical music, aka harmonic music, helps the brain relax and therefore more easily absorb information, while dissonant music increases your brain's "jumpiness" and therefore makes you more inclined to energetic exertion. This partially explains why you don't hear hard rock in elevators and classical music in gymnasiums.

I have never, ever gotten classical music to work for me. Either it does nothing, or it relaxes me too much and puts me to sleep. Either way, it's not conducive to concentration.

What does seem to work for me is a kind of half-step between the two: techno or electronic music that features low, regular beats and a deep, rich, "dark" sound like you might hear from a choir of male voices. I don't know what it is, but this mixture seems to hit the resonant frequency of my brain's creative center, and it really helps me to tune out the world and concentrate on my writing. Plus, the more I listen to it the more I associate it with writing, so through Pavlovian conditioning my brain thinks "Okay, time to get serious and write" whenever I hear it.

Some samples of what really works for me:

Pretty much anything from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, but especially "Recognizer".

Similarly, just about anything from E Nomine, but "Mitternacht" is my favorite.

And the first seven tracks (basically, DJ Miss Lisa's set) of Hot Import Nights.

Track 7: Hot N Tots (click to hear; no video exists)

So that's what works for me. Any other recommendations?

WNW: X-Muppets

In honor of the 21st anniversary of Jim Henson's passing, and because it will no doubt amuse my friend Barking Alien, I give you a version of the X-Men franchise that is guaranteed to amuse and delight all ages:

The X-Muppets, by Rahzzah

Friday, May 13, 2011

How to back up your blog with one click

It turns out that backing up my blog (in the event that Blogger decides to eat itself again) is incredibly easy. So, thanks for that, Blogger.

Here's what you do:
  • From your Dashboard, click Edit Posts. 
  • Select the Settings tab
  • You should be on Basic. If not, click that. 
  • The first paragraph is Blog Tools. Click on Export Blog. 
  • Press the large orange button which says Download Blog. 
Et voilà, you have downloaded your blog. 

    An Open Letter to Blogger

    Dear Blogger,

    Thank you so much for your 24+ hours of downtime that culminated in the loss of Wednesday's post. I suppose I should be glad that it was only a toss-off Wednesday Night Wackiness post that was eaten and not something more important. However, I am still not convinced that you've stop finished shitting yourself, or that you haven't secretly eaten something else of mine.

    I suppose I should thank you for this reminder that I need to make backups of the posts I prize most. Rest assured, I plan to get on that this weekend.

    I realize you are a free service and that I get what I pay for, but you need to realize that people who use Blogger are essentially free advertising for the Google Internet Mega-Conglomerate. Piss off enough people with things like this, and they will stop using you, and with that stoppage comes the loss of your tasty, tasty ad revenue.

    In short: Cross me again and I will cut you, bitch.

    Erin Palette

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    WNW: Henry 8.0

    Brian Blessed, an English actor and GIANT CANNED HAM, is a longtime favorite of mine. (In fact, I favorably compared him to Cookie Monster here.)  So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that from 2009-10 he did a series of internet shorts called Henry 8.0. This series takes the premise that King Henry VIII is not dead, but alive and well and living in suburbia with his sixth wife, Catherine Parr.

    It's basically an excuse for Blessed to dress as a king and shout about computer problems. It is, of course, fucking hilarious.

    The rest of the series may be see, for free, here.

    H/T to Ricochet for sending me the link.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Monday Gunday: Lessons Learned

    Yes, I am aware that this is Tuesday. I came down with a stomach bug last night.

    Anyway, after taking mom out to lunch on Mother's Day, she went home to take a nap and I was left with the afternoon to myself. Since I had been unable to make it to the range last weekend, I figured this was a prime opportunity to make up for lost time.

    In retrospect, I should have stayed home.

    There are some sports or hobbies where, according to the old adage a bad day spent doing it is still a pretty good day. This is most emphatically NOT true with firearms, because a really bad day at the range can result in injury or death. Fortunately neither of those things happened on Sunday, but it was still a pretty crappy day.

    Lesson #1: If the rangemasters are having a bad day, go home.
    For those who don't know the term, rangemasters are the guys (I have never seen a female rangemaster) are the people who work at the firing range, making sure that everything is working okay and that people aren't being irresponsible with their firearms. Everything they say is Law on the firing line, and if you don't obey them they will kick your ass to the street, because we are dealing with guns here and folks need to be responsible.

    You know the phrase "If momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy?" Well, the rangemasters are the mothers of the firing line, so when they are having a bad day (people have bad days, it just happens), pretty much everyone else is going to have a bad day as well. They will gig you for little things, stupid things, things that you've done a million times before and no one said word one about. So when they chew you a new one, you have two choices: nod, say "yes sir" and take your beating, or leave.

    I should have left. I didn't. I'm not saying that what happened after this was their fault; what I am saying is that when shooters are upset they tend to exercise poor judgement and make mistakes. Let's call it a "contributing factor" and be done with it.

    Lesson #2: There is such a thing as Too Much Bullet
    The first rifle out of my case was Izzy at the 50 yard line. Prior to this, I had been using Silver Bear 174 grain ammo, but I had shot all of that up the other day. I didn't want to use my corrosive military surplus (milsurp) rounds, so I went with something shiny I had bought a while back: 180gr Sellier & Bellot.

    Let me tell you that it might not look it on paper, but there is a HUGE difference between a 174gr bullet and a 180gr bullet. Even with two recoil pads, that 180gr round hurt. My shoulder is still aching two days later -- I shudder to think what it would have been like with the original stock and skullcrusher plate.

    If my shoulder had been the only casualty of the afternoon, though, I would have been all right with it. But apparently the recoil was such that it actually vibrated the screws on my scope mount loose. It was midway though my second magazine that I realized none of my shots were hitting the target. Like a dumbass, I corrected for windage and shot again. Another magazine & a half later, I finally figured out that my scope was actually tilted upwards and that meant all of my shots were going so low they were missing the target entirely.

    Lesson #3: Use a threadlocking compound
    If I had secured the screws with Loctite or Permatex, this would not have happened. Guess what I bought at the store today? 

    Lesson #4: Use cheap bullets when practicing. Use only the good stuff when you're certain.
    The shiny 180gr S&B? A buck a round. the milsurp rounds back at home? Five cents a round. Make your mistakes with the cheap stuff.

    Lesson #5: Know when to leave well enough alone.
    I'm happy to report that this was one lesson I didn't need to be taught, thankfully, because it could have gone wrong so many ways.

    After realizing my scope was flopping around, I had a "bubba" moment of "I can fix it!" by trying to shim up the base of the weaver rail with a screwdriver I keep in my range bag. I had wedged it in place and was sighting in on the target when something told me I needed to reconsider. I took a look at the screwdriver handle about a foot from my face and realized that 180 grains of recoil would probably shove that thing right into my eyes. I quite wisely decided that Izzy was range-fucked and put him back in the case.

    I pulled out my .22 and shot a quick set just to make sure the scope on it was still good. This was the result:
    The three circular patches are from shooting Izzy.
    Bullseye on the third shot at 50 yards. Any further shots would only ruin this perfection, so I took the target down. I am showing you this to demonstrate that I can actually shoot; this will be important later.

    Lesson #6: Always bring tools with you
    Another one I didn't need learning. I always bring a range-bag with me when I shoot; it carries my targets, ammunition, a bottle of water, and various tools for making field adjustments: allen wrenches, screwdrivers, leatherman multi-tool, etc. I joking refer to it as my "shooting purse" but it's come in damn handy more than a few times. So when the yahoo next to me needed a tool to adjust his sight, I had one I could lend. 

    Lesson #7: Something things just turn to shit
    It was like a cloud of bad luck descended upon the entire range. Yahoo to the left needed tools; the yahoo next to him had a casing that wouldn't eject and only freed when the rangemaster put a rod down the barrel and hammered at it with a piece of wood for a few minutes.

    As for myself, I was trying my luck on this target:

    If you didn't follow the link to the PDF, I want you to know that the 1-point circle there is approximately the size of the orange circle in the previous picture. It is dead-easy to hit, which is why it's worth only one point.

    I missed the shot. Don't ask me how, because I don't know. I could hit a bullseye an inch across at 50 yards, but something that huge I missed by a good chunk and my shot ended up in the big white field in the center of the paper.

    It was like I rolled a critical hit, followed immediately by a fumble. And I could not stop missing. I clipped the 5 right at the edge; the 10 shot went high and to the right. Not what happened with the 15, but the round meant for the 20 went high and actually hit the 150 circle above it.

    I cannot explain this. I tried shooting another tube of ammo, but every single bullet refused to feed into the chamber, giving me jam after jam after jam. I switched from lead round-nose to copper hollowpoint.

    They all jammed.

    I applied Lesson #5 and left before things could get worse, because it is never a good idea to be in a bad mood while using a tool that generates small explosions near your head.

    Damage report
    I had hoped that by cleaning, lubing, and tightening by .22 I'd be able to fix the feed problem, but no joy: jammed every time. So I took it to my local gun shop and, wouldn't you know it, I could not replicate the results. The dummy rounds (called snap caps) loaded perfectly every single time. All I could do was describe what had happened and make an appointment for the gunsmith to take a look at it. I don't know if he'll find what's wrong with it or not. I hope it's not expensive.

    As for Izzy, I suspect the entire Weaver rail is fucked. When I removed the screws that held it to the rifle, I noticed a lot of stripped threads. I don't know if this is due to me over-tightening them (I don't think so, but it's a definite possibility) or just using cheap metal in the manufacture. I'm investigating replacement rails, but am caught on the horns of a dilemma: less expensive rails might be made of more cheap metal, but simply having a higher price tag is no indication of quality. If any of my readers can recommend to me a strong, reliable rail at a decent price, I'd surely appreciate it.

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Hello, DC Comics...

    Look at your Superman, then back to Thor. Now back to Superman. Now back to Thor. Sadly, Superman isn't Thor, but if you took a lesson from Marvel and gave him interesting villains, he could do as well as Thor.

    Look down. Back up. Where are you? You're at a hugely successful movie premiere with the man your Superman could be if you'd only give him good writers.

    What's in your hand? Back at Thor, he has it. It's a movie with drama and pathos. Look again. The movie is now worth its weight in gold!

    Anything is possible when your Superman is actually super and not an emo boy fighting a real estate plot.

    I'm beating a dead horse.

    (Link) View more Old Spice Sound Clips and Bruce Campbell Sound Clips

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Poll Tax

    Voting is over and the results of last week's poll are in. Out of 31 votes:
    • 7 of you voted for Poor Richard's Universe (22%)
    • 11 of you voted for Pellatarrum (35%)
    • 13 of you voted for Curse/Or (41%)
    I'm actually quite surprised at how close Curse/Or and Pellatarrum were. This tells me that it's basically a tie between the two, with only a slight preference for the e-novel.

    All righty then, on with the next poll, entitled "What level of support are you willing to give in order to get more Curse/Or?"  It's assumed that your answers are cumulative, i.e. if you pick option 3 then you already agree with options 1 and 2.

    You will note that I have left off the options of "I am a book publisher willing to give you an advance if you'll sign this contract" and "I am a wealthy lover of fiction who wishes to support you as you write" because, even though I am a writer, there are some things in which even I can't believe.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Z Kit: The Crovel

    It's been a long time since I did a Z Kit, and as May is Zombie Awareness Month it's the perfect time to restart this semi-regular series. Kicking us off is a tool that looks more likely to appear in Left 4 Dead 3 than in real life.

    Behold the Crovel!
    Crowbar + Shovel + Asskicking = Awesome

    I don't know about you folks, but as far as I'm concerned the only way the Crovel could be any more exciting would be if they managed to attach Batman to it. In fact, it is an article of faith for me that Batman has one of these in the Batmobile's trunk. 

    Weighing it at 5.5 pounds, this beast is more than just a shovel and a crowbar. So, so much more. According to this graphic, you can use it as:
    • axe
    • crowbar
    • shovel
    • hoe (no you are!)
    • hammer
    • nail puller
    • knife
    • cleaver
    • saw
    • machete
    • bottle opener
    • grappling hook
    • chair

    Plus there's  15 feet of paracord wrapped around the handle, so if you wanted, you could whirl it over your head and have a 15 foot-long Flail of Doooooooom. Not only could you cut off multiple zombie heads at range, you'd also terrify the crap out of human opponents who would take one look at you and question your sanity.

    There are, however, drawbacks to the Crovel. It's not small -- 19 inches when folded -- and at $85 it's freaking expensive. On the other hand, it does save both space and weight when compared to the tools that do what it does.

    But let's be frank. The real reason people will get this is because it's awesomely scary-looking. It probably also serves as a penis extension, which is a good thing since I imagine it's frighteningly easy to cut your bits off when using its sharpened edges as a chair.

      Greatest Hits

      Some of you have no doubt noticed I am getting my rear in gear and attempting to become organized by making pages for my series: Curse/Or, Pellatarrum, etc.  But seeing as how I've been bloviating (p.s. to Sortelli: I STILL WIN) for over 4 years now, I think it's time to separate the wheat from the chaff for the benefit of new readers and archive browsers --- and believe me, there is a lot of chaff here.

      What I plan to do is have a "Greatest Hits" page with links to posts that were popularinfamous, or of which I am very proud. Now I suppose I could just do a search by tag and keyword, but that still ends up with one person (me) deciding what my greatest hits were. And that seems a bit autocratic for what is essentially a popularity contest.

      Therefore, I would like to ask of all my readers that they nominate their choices for inclusion into a Greatest Hits page. I would do this by poll, but there are far too many choices to make this feasible, so you'll have to leave your choices via comments below. Given the number of readers who are likely to comment, there will be no voting process: just naming your choices is enough to get them included (assuming of course that the posts you mention are actually worthwhile and not the result of some wiseass nominating a one-sentence post just to see what happens.)

      Here are the restrictions:
      • The post must be something of which I wrote the majority; most of my Wednesday Night Wackiness posts are basically just a few lines of introductory text followed by a YouTube video, and I don't feel right taking credit for those.
      • It must contain a substantial thought, not just a few sentences of me whining about my life or saying the word "FUCK" repeatedly.
      • It shouldn't already exist on another page; therefore all Silence Saga, Curse/Or, and Pellatarrum posts are disqualified. 
      Everything else? Totally open for nomination.

      I look forward to seeing what my readers think is great enough for inclusion!

      Wednesday, May 4, 2011

      Oh, right...

      ... today is Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you, and all that.)  I can be forgiven for its having slipped my mind because I wrote off SW as a lost cause back in the early part of the previous decade (OH GOD I FEEL SO OLD HAVING SAID THAT).

      Anyway, have some Simon Pegg taking the piss out of Star Wars.

      WNW: Girls Like Porn

      Continuing my shameless pandering in an attempt to garner more male readership (and also because I'm having difficulty being witty these days), I present to you proof that girls do, indeed, like porn.

      For the record, I would be the girl in the stripey top with the tattoo. Not because we share any particular kinks (ahem) but because my particular schtick seems to be "Inappropriate Comment Woman" and "Overshare Lass".

      Monday, May 2, 2011

      Monday Gunday: Girls with Guns (Mosin-Nagant edition)

      Not much going on at Chateau Palette today. I wanted to get out to the range yesterday, but alas, I did not.

      Please accept these pictures of attractive women with Mosin-Nagants as my apology.

      And finally, an animated clip of how I am certain Osama bin Laden's capture and death occurred:

      Enjoy, and mazel tov.

      Sunday, May 1, 2011

      Pellatarrum: Predamentals

      Elementals, as it has been noted before, are strange. While often hostile to biological beings, they can't truly be called evil or predatory; they are alien entities who have been displaced from their homes into hostile environments which slowly destroy them. You'd be bitter and hostile, too, if you were in their situation.

      But sometimes, things go horribly wrong*, and these elementals DO become not just evil, but predatory. Scholars theorize this has something to do with exposure to Negative Energy -- perhaps the elemental was summoned as it neared the end of its natural lifespan in the Churn, or perhaps it was bound by a lich using foul necrotic magics -- but the fact remains that these things are no longer content to just be in that alien manner of theirs. They hunt, they kill, and they revel in it.

      They aren't, strictly speaking, undead (elementals were never alive to begin with), but these "predamentals" are to regular elementals as vampires, ghouls and the like are to ordinary humans: by feeding upon the life force of those they slay, they extend their ability to stay on the Material Plane. The exact metric is not known, but obviously, the more powerful the prey they consume, the longer they may stay upon Pellatarrum.

      Fire predamentals are easy to spot, as they are unnatural fires which keeps burning beyond what would be considered "normal" and move as if directed by sentience, but that makes them hard to differentiate from regular fire elementals. Key to detection is mostly within subtleties of behavior: an elemental will choose to burn things which ignite easily and burn impressively, whereas a predamental will choose to inflict maximum pain and suffering. If it's content to sit there and burn, and not bother you unless provoked, it's a regular elemental; if it ignores a granary and chooses to burn an orphanage instead, it's a predamental.

      Fire predamentals are sometimes known as Cinder Swarms. Fighting them without magic is difficult, but if encountered in the wild they are easily detected and avoided (because, you know, it's fire). While highly aggressive, they tend to die out quickly, though some have been known to inhabit coal seams or peat bogs for decades (see also muckfires).

      Air predamentals, conversely, are nearly impossible to spot. They fly, silently and invisibly, and enjoy pushing people off of great heights to their doom or stealing their breath while they sleep. Like monsters in horror movies, they terrorize groups by going after the smallest members first, picking them off one by one. The defining feature of all air predamental attacks is that the victim dies in a state of extreme terror.

      Air predamentals are better known as Invisible Stalkers. They can be detected through use of windchimes, pinwheels, or dust scattered upon the floor, though that detection does little good when it comes to fighting them. It's also impossible to tell when one has targeted someone for predation until people start dying. The best way to defend against them is through elemental wards sold by druids of the Gray Cabal.

      Water predamentals are also nearly invisible to spot -- while at rest. When in action, however, they quickly froth up into malevolent shapes of strangling, suffocating foam: whirlpools, waterfalls, raging torrents and whitewater rapids. A tranquil pond occupied by a predamental could quickly become a drowning pool, so beware when approaching bodies of water with bottoms you cannot see and no apparent wildlife in or near them. Whether or not prey can breathe is irrelevant to a water predamental, as the suffocation is just the prelude to its preferred method of killing: forcible extraction of all bodily fluids through extreme compression.

      Water predamentals are usually known as as Water Weirds. Much like fire, the best defense against them is detection and avoidance; don't go near the water until a ranger or druid has declared it safe. They generally avoid bodies of water which are large or fast-moving, as those tend to disrupt their cohesion, so flowing rivers are usually safer than still ponds.

      Earth predamentals are the subtlest, most cunning of the lot. Only the youngest and most foolish take the predictable forms of avalanches, falling rocks, yawning pits and crumbling ledges, for even the non-predamental versions of  these are easily spotted and avoided by folks with common sense. The oldest, and therefore most successful earth predamentals are known as Hungry Caves. Creatures will enter them of their own free will, either seeking a lair or shelter from the weather, and once inside the hungry cave will collapse upon its prey, crushing and chewing until nothing is left but a fine paste. Hungry caves look like regular caves with two exceptions:
      1. They are almost always at ground level. While hungry caves high on mountaintops or beneath the water have been known to exist, there needs to be a large quantity of prey species in the area to sustain them. Ground level opening optimize them for predation upon most mammalian, serpentine, and insect species. 
      2. There is always something subtly wrong about the appearance of a hungry cave. It could be that the stones around it bear a passing resemblance to teeth, or a trick of the light seems to suggest malevolent eyes staring out of the darkness, or perhaps just excessively green and fertile foliage surrounding it. If there is something bothersome about a cave, but you cannot put your finger on why that is, do not enter. 
      There are apocryphal stories of a hungry cave which grew so strong and so large that it eventually devoured an entire valley. While there is no scholarly evidence of such a thing ever happening, more than one settlement has abruptly disappeared without explanation after a particularly harsh winter.

      If a predamental cannot be avoided, and a member of the Gray Cabal is not on hand to bind/control/dismiss them, the only other option is to attempt to pacify it through a sacrificial offering. This may be as easy as a bottle of wine poured into a body of water before passage, or as cruel as a living beings (usually condemned criminals) staked out in a line leading away from town.

      It is fortunate for the inhabitants of Pellatarrum that predatory elementals occur rarely. Still, they serve as a constant reminder to the people that when nature demands blood, she usually gets it.

      *Things going horribly wrong seems to be another recurring motif in Pellatarrum.

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