Wednesday, February 29, 2012

WMW: Quote of the Day (gunblogger edition)

From A Girl and Her Gun:

"I don't exactly live life on the edge, but regardless of the risks, I am going to sniff my rifle from time to time."

AGirl is a member of the Mosin Militia. Owning a Mosin will do that to a person. :D

WNW: Linguaphilia

Leave it to the Germans, with their delicate Teutonic command of subtle concepts of hate, revenge, and laughing at someone while exacting hate-filled revenge upon them, to come up with a word like Neidbau, which means "a building (often of little or no value to the proprietor) constructed with the sole purpose of harassing or inconveniencing his neighbor in some way."

More of these awesome words which deserve to be in our daily parlance may be found at 9 Foreign Words the English Language Desperately Needs. (Warning: Leads to This blog is not responsible for loss of work, or time spent browsing the site.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pellatarrum: Halfling Holidays

by Mike Kochis, with help by Erin Palette

While the Halflings of Pellatarrum use the common calendar, they have several unique seasonal holidays. The halfling calendar is referred to by outsiders as an endless string of holidays, back to back. Halflings know better – those holidays overlap. What's the fun in celebrating just one holiday at a time?

Some of their most famous holidays are listed below.

Weeks of Twined Seasons
There are four "overlap seasons", each lasting a week, where halflings expect both elements, and combinations of the two, to fall from the sky. By starting midweek, the festivals begin in one season and end in another.

Mudfast (autumn/water to winter/earth): Fools blame the humans for inventing mud wrestling, but the truth is that this began as a courtship contest among the halflings. Mudfast is not so named because halflings want the earth season to come quickly, but rather because the first day of the season (known as Warp Day -- see below) is the one day halflings traditionally "fast" or eat nothing. Interestingly enough, fasting does not preclude drinking. This leads to the expected boasts of virility and fighting for a lady's favor, as well as wicked hangovers after (and during!) the contests. Think "Highland Games, as performed by drunken Irish farmers."

Duster (winter/earth to spring/air): The holiday of Cropwash falls on the last Halfday of winter, and continues until the first of Spring. Every halfling gets together with their family, grabs a sponge or rag or garden implement, and washes the crops -- all the crops, even those of their most stalwart rivals. Despite the name, the holiday is more than a literal washing of crops; in addition to removing the residual dirt left over from winter, pruning, fertilization, and other "get ready for spring planting" tasks. One would think that there would be some folk "shirking work", but halflings show a nearly dwarven work ethic during this holiday; however, buckets of water often mysteriously find themselves being emptied in the general direction of other halflings as a good-natured prank.

Ignition (spring/air to summer/fire): Sadly, the ideal of the halfling farmer wasting away the summer days with a bit of straw in his mouth is far from the truth (although halflings have been known to assume exactly this posture and mannerism just to poke fun of outsiders.) This festival is celebrated with working holidays such as Fence Mending, where one mends fences, both social and physical (and put up new fences, where applicable). The final checks on fireproofing are done on residences, for the obvious reasons. Pre-ash crops are harvested, and the halflings retire underground to wait out the season of annihilation. This does not mean isolation -- halfing communities have vast networks of tunnels and underground meeting spaces. An apparently sleepy township can host a bustling underground economy.

Steamfall (summer/fire to autumn/water): Ashcrop, another working holiday, falls during this week. Crops with strong roots are planted in the fertile ash soil of the surface. Although many families will remain underground until winter, there are some who literally sing in the rain. Also known as "fritzy hair week", in some communities Steamfall is celebrated by intentionally "poofing out" one's hair. It is also time for halfling weddings (the results of courtships begun during Mudfast), which tend to be large community affairs. The married couple usually retires to their residence and are not expected to surface until spring. It is traditional to leave gifts of food at the doors of newlyweds throughout this season.

Warp Day is a halfling legend. It claims that on the day between years (traditionally the first day of Mudfast), the dimensional borders of Pellatarum are weaker than normal. On this day, and this day only, it is possible for travel between Pellatarum and the ruins of other worlds. Poppycock, of course. But there are elders who dimly remember their elders once telling them that the "day between" wasn't always at the start of Mudfast...


Good Lord, you people.

12 hours after I put up a request to help me purchase a sidearm, and I've already gotten $100 in donations. That's 1/5 of my goal in half a day!  I am befuddled and astounded. And flattered. And honored.

For those kind souls who have donated:  THANK YOU!  Let me know if you wish to be acknowledged publicly or anonymously. If you choose public, I will still keep the dollar amount of your contribution anonymous.

UPDATE: The ChipIn widget seems to be broken. Therefore, I've removed it. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Gunday: Help Erin buy a Glock

I feel weird about this, but I've run it past a gunnie whose opinion I respect (and who holds a high standing in the gunnie community) and he says it's okay. So here we go...

My birthday is March 11, and I really want to buy a pistol. It may be a surprise to some of you folks, but I don't own a concealed carry weapon (mostly because I don't want to advertise that fact.)*

What I really want to own is Glock, because my Kel-Tec carbine uses the exact same magazines and ammunition, and having interchangeable magazines is a big deal to me.

But here's the thing: pistols are expensive, and I am a poor freelance writer. I can't afford $500 for... well, for anything, really. And if I want to carry legally in Florida, I have to take classes and then get a license, which is another $200 on top of that.

A friend of mine suggested I ask the gunnie community if they'd be interested in donating money to help me buy a pistol. I wasn't sure that was a good idea, because it seemed too much like begging. But I asked around, and got a positive reaction to it. I guess it's true that gunnies are in favor of people owning pistols and will help contribute to that!

So here's my request:  If you are interested in helping the Bratty Little Sister of the Gunblog Community purchase a Glock for concealed carry, then please donate using the PayPal button to the right of this column. All funds sent in this manner will be used towards buying a pistol.

Ideally, I would like a Glock 19, but I'm not especially picky and will take either a 17 or a 26 if my choices are limited, or I can find one for cheap. If any of my readers have one of these models that they are willing to sell for less than the current retail price of "an arm and a leg", then please contact me.

If, by some miracle, I manage to get more than I need to purchase a Glock, I will use the rest towards acquiring a concealed carry permit. Anything after that will be magazines, ammunition, a holster, etc.

If you're interested in helping, but don't know how much to give: I have been informed that a good barometer for this sort of thing is "a box of ammunition."  The current price for a 50-round box of 9mm JHP is about $10 American.

If you do decide to donate, let me know if you wish to do so publicly or anonymously. Public donors will receive a Thank You from me on this blog when I am finally able to purchase my sidearm.

In conclusion:  Please help your little sister get a gun so she'll be safe in certain parts of town. Thank you.

* Sure, I own a Ruger Bearcat, but that's a single-action .22 revolver -- not really suitable for concealed carry or for self-defense.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Health Update

Ever since the first part of January, I've felt so damn lethargic.

Not the kind from depression; that feels different. No, this kind is the "I've had a full night's sleep and drunk a cup of coffee and I still cannot muster enough energy or enthusiasm to do more than watch TV. Also, I can't think clearly and sometimes I can't string together a coherent sentence." This latter, as you can imagine, is damn frightening for a writer.

I realized something was really, really wrong when I was drinking a second cup in the afternoon just to get me through the day, and I still had barely enough oomph to walk the dogs. So I started studying what it was I had been eating.

It then occurred to me that, even though I've always been a carnivore, I had been seriously craving protein on a regular basis. Not just "ooh, I'm hungry" but "NEED RED MEAT NOW" kind of thing. And on the days I had felt better, I had typically eaten a nice meal of red meat either that day or the day before. But even after trying to eat more red meat, I was still feeling blah and cloudy-headed. Oh, and I had started to whack the right side of my body into walls, which was definitely unusual, as I am right-dominant.

I only recently (remember, sometimes thinking is difficult for me) figured out that maybe, perhaps, I have some kind of anemia. After all, red meat is full of hemoglobin and therefore iron. I did some quick research on teh Googlez and it turns out that, yes, anemia can include the symptoms of:
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • insomnia
  • headaches
  • paleness
  • clumsiness
Well, I'm already naturally pale and prone to headaches anyone, and I've always been a night owl, so those symptoms could have easily crept up on me. And I've always been a cranky bitch. But the fatigue, the difficulty in concentrating, the clumsiness... it started to add up, especially because my father also has some kind of iron deficiency thing, although his seems to be an old-man sort of thing.

But still, now there was a direct genetic relation.

At this point, I'd make an appointment with a doctor -- but I am poor and have no health insurance. Besides, the last time I had a check-up I didn't have any warning indicators with the bloodwork -- but then again, the feelings of fatigue hadn't started then, either.

So I did an experiment:  I took one of my father's massive iron pills, and what do you know, I started to feel better almost immediately. Not great, you understand, but better. Like the fog was clearing from my brain. Later that day, I felt positively normal. I was talking intelligently, with proper verbs and everything, and I wasn't whacking my right side into the wall.

There you go, then: I was some kind of anemic, and it had come on just after my last blood test. It's not an actual medical diagnosis, of course, but it's the best I can do in this instance. I'll keep you updated as I experiment with dietary supplements.

Hopefully this will result in more productivity.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Unknown Ponies: Kelpies

There are very strong elemental themes running throughout My Little Pony.  Earth ponies are, naturally, earth dominant, and pegasi are the sky ponies. Unicorns are related to fire in ways that are not immediately obvious: fire is energy, and energy changes things, and magic also changes things. Add that to the telling glow around a unicorn's horn when she is practicing magic, and you see the fire connection.

Oh yeah, and then there's the fact that Twilight Sparkle bursts into flame twice in Season 1:

Twilight Sparkle has evolved into Rapidash!

So that's settled, then. But what about the element of water?

With the understanding that future episodes of MLP:FiM may completely invalidate this, I present you with Kelpies*, the ponies of the sea.

Some times referred to as the hippocampus or aughisky, kelpies are seaponies who usually dwell in the ocean or deep inland lakes. They are a quiet and introspective people who prize the arts above all else. Preferred hobbies are singing, growing coral, or making items from seashells. Their role in the ecology of Equestria is similar to that of the pegasi: they tend to the needs of other aquatic creatures and control the waves and the tides. Unlike the pegasi, who have turned their duties into an industry, kelpies see their role as artistic in nature. They are sculptors, not manufacturers.

Kelpies receive +10% to their Soul attribute and the skills Water Control and Shape Changing (Soul).

Water Control is the ability to manipulate water in order to create or diminish waves and tides. Having this skill grants the ability to breathe underwater, to walk on the water's surface as if it were solid (even while shape changed), and to use the gallop skill to swim.

Shape Changing allows a kelpie to shift between the traditional hippocampus appearance (head and front legs of a horse, with fins instead of hooves and hair, and a seahorse tail) with that of a regular earth pony. Certain aquatic details will remain when shapeshifted, such as small fins, gills, scales, a bifurcated tail, or a mane and tail that are always dripping wet.

Picture courtesy of 

While this is basically a "shift between water and land" power, Kelpies who decide to make shape changing their special ability may, at the Ponymaster's discretion, perform other transformations. Changes to coloration and hair style are easy, but at higher levels (and perhaps requiring the expenditure of a Magic point) other abilities may be possible, such as: adhesive skin, sharp teeth, flight and even turning into mist. Consult with folklore for additional ideas.

* Because another name of Kelpies in folklore is Water Horse**. Trololololol!

**Fun idea that is in no way canonical: since most folklore about water horses comes from Celtic mythology, I think it would be hilarious if Kelpies spoke in Scottish, Irish, or Welsh accents. Or pirate dialect!  Arrrrr!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I am bi

A couple months ago I had an interesting conversation with Christopher O'Dell, the blogger behind Grognardling, when he commented on one of my posts:
I wasn't sure whether or not you wanted to self-identify as a "grognardling," but that [asking to be added to his blogroll]'s good enough for me.
The notion that I had to 'self-identify" struck me as a curious thing. I've never bought into the whole old-school vs. new-school  kerfuffle, because I've never really seen the point in chaining myself to one particular style. And that's when it struck me that I was bi.

Bi-school, that is. I take the best of both sides and I ignore what doesn't work. For example:

I understand, and approve of, the old-school notion that dice should never be a substitution for role-playing. You should have a character, not a collection of stats from which to roll dice; i.e. You are not your dice rolls.

On the other hand...

RPGs allow us to be what we are not, because escapism is fun. So what happens if I am an engineer with social anxiety who wants to play a bard? Or what if I want to play a wizard, but I'm not very bright?  It's one thing to suppress your abilities for a more challenging role, but it's impossible to play someone who is better than you without some kind of intervention, whether it is GM fiat or a probability of success based upon a die roll.

So in my games, I fuse the two. If you are playing a glib character, I want you to roll the dice and role-play what your character is saying, and I have the one modify the result of the other. That way, a crappy roll can be saved with a good line, or a good roll can save a foot-in-mouth maneuver -- although neither are as successful as what you'd get if you have a good line AND a good roll.

I like both aspects, and I fuse the two. I try to find a happy medium of role-playing and roll-playing.

I understand the frustration that people feel when they say "Elves are a race, not a class!" and I really like having oodles of options when I am making a character because they allow my to fine-tune my alter-ego just so. But at the same time, I understand that splat-bloat can be a real problem, especially when you're the GM trying to run a game, so it's perfectly reasonable to say "These books and no others."

I think this is a reasonable position, and yet, it's one of the rarest I've seen online. You're either old-school, new-school (or in the case of some weirdos, plaid), but never bi-school.

Aren't there any other bi gamers out there? Surely I'm not the only one who swings both ways like this.

Wait... I think Zak is bi-school, too. So that's two of us. Any others?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


The first rule of Valentine's Day is, you do not celebrate Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Gunday: Cleaning your Mosin-Nagant

This weekend, two important things happened:
  1. I took Izzy to the 100 yard range and shot nearly 40 rounds of ammo;
  2. A Girl and Her Gun bought a Mosin-Nagant!
Is gun. Is meant to be big, strong like horse.

Therefore, to welcome A Girl to the Mosin Militia, today's post is all about how to effectively clean your Mosin after shooting a bunch of rounds through it.

But first, pictures! You guys want to see what I did to my targets at 100 yards, right? Of course you do!

This is how I set up my targets, one on top of the other, because I didn't know how much my bullets would drop at 100 yards and I wanted to make sure I'd be on paper.  The answer? Not very damn much. Not sure if it was my posture, or the ammo if I was using, but damn if the first few rounds didn't seem like they were rising. Eventually I just stopped worrying about bullet drop altogether and was firing pretty much straight-on, elevation-wise.

As for windage... there was some pretty impressive wind that day, and it was swirling through the berms of the range, sometimes crosswise and sometimes straight at me. I'm not sure if that was the big difference, or if the windage on my scope was off, but either way I needed to aim slightly to the right of the target in order to hit it.

Anyway. My first few shots were higher than expected. You can see two of them at the bottom of the top target, and some others were off-paper. I fired 38 shots, and if you count all the holes you'll find 35 of them. Not bad, I'd say! I was using milsurp ammo, a bipod, and a 7x scope.

This was my first target. 13 holes punched in it. While half aren't in the inner ring, they'd still be hits on a human torso.

My second target, once I'd settled in a bit (still had some windage problems). The very bottom two holes are from shooting at the bottom target. I had 20 shots on paper here. Anything in black is a torso hit, and anything inside the middle ring is a cranial hit.

I'm actually quite shocked at how well I did, as this was my first time with Izzy at a hundred, and there was lots of wind, and 7x magnification with long eye relief isn't what I'd call a good sight picture (but then, I have crappy vision).

So after shooting 40 rounds -- about twice what I've ever fired on previous trips -- Izzy needed a good cleaning. Since A Girl said she had trouble determining how to clean her Mosin, I offered to tell her how to do it.

First, if you haven't already, remove all cosmoline from the gun. I did that after buying Izzy in 2010 and all I used were paper towels and a can of WD-40, but my friend Jeff swears by B-12 Chemtool: "spray the metal parts with it," he says, "and the cosmoline will literally drip off it in about five minutes, even if the barrel is clogged."

I've also been told that Nevr-Dull works great to give your barrel a mirror shine. Pinch off a wad of it, and ram it down the bore like it was a cleaning patch. If it comes out a blueish-gray, you're good; that's just the natural color of the polishing agent within the cotton. But if it comes out tar-black, you still have cosmoline or carbon buildup. Alternate swabs of Nevr-Dull and clean patches until it stops coming out black. I am assured that residual cosmoline within the barrel will adversely affect accuracy.

If you've already shot your gun, then I'm assuming cosmoline isn't an issue.So now let's get on with the post-shoot cleaning.

The absolutely first thing you need to do is neutralize whatever corrosive salts may be lingering inside your rifle from shooting military surplus rounds. (If you're using commercial cartridges, this isn't an issue, but you're paying a dollar a cartridge for the privilege when the rest of us are paying $30 for a box of 100.)  There are various schools of thought as to how best to accomplish this, from the old-fashioned "soap and hot water" technique to various pricey chemical neutralizers. I was told that ammonia works great for this, so I just grab a bottle of Windex a for the task. I live in hot, humid Florida -- aka corrosion central -- and I've never had a problem.

I find that it works best to remove the receiver from the magazine and clean them in three parts: the bolt, the magazine, and the barrel. The first two get sprayed down while sitting on my cleaning mat, and then wiped with a paper towel. Then I take the barrel into the bathroom, and after spraying the receiver I give several good squirts into the chamber, rotating the barrel in my hands so that the Windex coats the entire bore surface before dripping out into the toilet. Now take your bore inspection light (you do have one, right? You can buy one at Wal-Mart for about $7) and make sure everything looks wet & shiny.*

Foreplay is over. Now let's get to cleaning this bad boy!

Take your bronze brush and scrub the heck out of your bolt-face until there's no carbon left. Use a scraper if necessary. Coat with a lubricant of your choice (I prefer Break-Free CLP) and set it aside.

Take the hinge plate off the magazine and give everything a good squirt of CLP. Wipe down the excess and set it aside.

Time to get serious with the receiver and barrel. There are a few tools I swear by that make my life easier:

Take your Otis cleaning rod, select a #30 brush, and pull it through the bore a few times. If you're using the cleaning rod guide, you'll need to affix the additional pistol piece to accommodate the length of the rifle. 

Next, take the cleaner of your choice and spray or squirt it onto the boresnake. I like to put some right at the leading edge, and again after the bristles where it widens. Thanks to the cleaning rod guide you can do the easy thing and clean from muzzle to breach -- which is technically a no-no, but isn't a big deal in this case, because the guide will channel all the crud clear of the gun -- or you can go breech to muzzle if you'd rather. Do that however many times you feel is necessary (I like to do it about 5-6 times) and then run a patch through the bore.

(This is where things can get a bit tricky, because if you aren't using the rod guide then your patch is likely picking up crud from the outside of the chamber and pulling it through the bore. This is not what you want, because it makes your life harder and you think the barrel is dirtier than it actually is.)

Once you're happy with the condition of your bore, having run boresnake and patches down it a few times, and visually inspected it with a light, you're ready to clean the chamber and receiver. The receiver itself is easy: get a bronze brush, the cleaner of your choice, and scrub it until you're satisfied with its cleanliness. Don't forget to lube the trigger and check the tightness of the screw holding the interrupter pin!

Cleaning the chamber is probably the hardest part of all, and I don't have a great technique for it just yet. Fortunately, I am reassured that unless my rifle starts giving me problems with extracting spent rounds, it doesn't have to be pristine. If your 50+ year-old rifle can survive illiterate conscripts and the Russian winter, it can survive you!

My best suggest for cleaning the chamber is to spray it with a strong solvent, like Gunk Out, and then attack it with either the longest bronze brush you have, or put a larger bore brush on it (perhaps .45 cal, or a shotgun brush) and scrub the hell out of it. Then wrap a patch around the brush and wipe it clean. Repeat as necessary.

Before assembly, spray the receiver, chamber, and bore with more CLP. If you have excess, just wipe it on the outside metal of the rifle.

Re-assemble your Mosin, and do a function check. I have found it's very, very easy to over-tighten one of the magazine screws while under-tightening another, and this often leads to failure to feed. Once I get each screw started, I like to go back and forth between the screws in one-revolution increments. Load up a stripper clip, shove the rounds into your rifle, and carefully work the bolt to see if they feed.

At all times during the process, be aware of the rules of firearms safety! Know where the muzzle is pointing and for God's sake, keep your booger hook off the bang switch!

Et voila -- or, more accurately, электронной Вуаля -- your Mosin-Nagant is now clean, oiled, and ready for storage. Make sure it's unloaded, slowly and carefully  take the tension off the bolt, and put your rifle into its case.

Congratulations! You're all done!

*UPDATE:  If you are in the habit of shooting your Mosin with the bayonet attached, do not forget to clean the bayonet shaft closest to the muzzle! Corrosive salts will spray from the barrel and begin to rust your bayonet (don't ask me how I know this) if you don't hose it down with Windex.

I've since discovered an easier way to clean the bore without having to take the rifle into the bathroom:  I attach the bayonet, go into the backyard, and stab the receiver into the ground like a tomato stake. From there I just spray the chamber and barrel and let the Windex work its way down while I clean the bolt and magazine.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Things which piss me off

A list, in no particular order:
  • My chronic inability to get anything written on Thursday.
  • Waking up feeling hung-over when I haven't had anything to drink the night before.
  • That there are blogs which only update twice a month who have at least a hundred more followers than I do.
  • That I bust my ass to put out good content at least 3 times a week and no one seems to care.
  • That only one person in the gun-blog-sphere wished me a Happy Blogoversary -- and thank you for that, Brigid! I have many gun-curious girlfriends and I will make sure they read your blog to expand their education.
  • Self-congratulatory circle-jerks which are ultimately meaningless but, nonetheless, hurt my feelings when I am excluded from them.
And now I'm off to shoot things. Later y'all.

This man has balls

Huge, cast-iron balls. In fact, his balls are so massive that any ovulating female within 10 feet of him are liable to become pregnant just from his stone-cold bad-assery.

This, my friends, is confidence in your product.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Today I am five

As of today, I have been lurking in a rhythmic fashion for five whole years.

That's five years of me blathering about science fiction, role-playing games, alternate-history colonial-era superheroes, Curse/Or, Pellatarrum, guns, and of course, magical talking pastel-colored ponies.

If you're a member of my posse, please leave me a message in the comments below.

Or link to me! I love linkbacks.

WNW: Never Split the Party

Special thanks to Newbiespud over at Friendship is Dragons for linking to this video.

The egotist in me wants to point out that this video was uploaded on August 15, 2011.  My series on "My Little Pony: Friendship is Dungeons & Dragons" was published in late June and early July. I'm going to take some credit for this, especially since I was the first to point out that Rarity is a Rogue.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pellatarrum: the Common Calendar

The common calendar of Pellatarrum, much like its common language, developed organically through cooperation between the various Elder races and their emissaries out of a need to have a universal timetable during the Orc War.

Each day is precisely 24 hours long. No more, no less.

A Pellatarran week is eight days long. Listed first is the common bowdlerization of the name, and then the original name for the day.
  1. Briday ("Bright Day")
  2. Dorday ("Dwarf Day")
  3. Elday ("Elf Day")
  4. Gonnesday ("Dragon Day")
  5. Noday ("Gnome Day")
  6. Halfday ("Halfling Day"
  7. Manday ("Human Day")
  8. Bladay ("Black Day")
There is symbolism at work here (thank the elves for that): The week starts with Positive Energy -- birth -- and ascends through the elder races from shortest to longest lived. It then descends through the servitor races, again from greatest to least longevity, and thence into Negative Energy and death.

The two energy days, representing the sun and anti-sun of Pellatarrum, serve as bookends to the week and highlights their duality. But Bladay also becomes Briday with the changing of the week, representing their duality.

Owing to the fact that the sky above Pellatarrum is a gigantic celestial clock, seasons are easily tracked and therefore there is little need for varied months. Therefore, each season is a month, which can easily be divided into "ascending" (moving towards mid-season) and "descending" (moving towards the next season) if necessary. Each month is 12 weeks, or 96 days long.

Each Pellatarran year is 384 days (8 x 12 x 4) long, and you can thank the dwarves for having nice even months without any of this "leap year" nonsense. This means that for every year, a human on Pellatarrum ages 19.25 more days than a human on Earth. Therefore, every 20 years, a person will age an extra 385 days, or essentially one extra Pellatarrum year. This difference is negligible unless measured across centuries -- in which case either the individual in question will be dead, or is sufficiently long-lived (dwarf, elf, dragon) that measuring years to centuries would be akin to accounting for extra hours added to a human lifespan:  every century adds 5 years, and every thousand adds 50.

Again, this is not actual aging, just a conversion factor between Earth time and Pellatarran time.

Other Calendars
This is not the only calendar in use in Pellatarrum, just the only most used. The Dwarven calendar is far more precise (akin to an atomic clock), while the Elven calendar is a masterpiece of context that makes "In the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia" seem positively concise in comparison.

No one has quite gotten the hang of the Draconic calendar, as dragons measure years the way the rest of us measure minutes and hours. Kobolds quite happily use the common calendar, as do the orcs if their tribe is literate enough -- otherwise they simply mark the seasons.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Gunday: Learning something new

Why two Monday Gunday posts in the same day? Because I just learned something new and I want to make it plain to my readers that I do not know everything.  Keep that in mind the next time you're reading stuff on the Internet and you feel foolish for not knowing, or for being confused -- everyone can be ignorant or mis-informed.

First, a quick glossary on ammunition: 
  • Bullet is the pointy part that comes out of the barrel. 
  • Brass or Case is the cylindrical part that contains the gunpowder, and gets ejected.
  • Cartridge is the combined package of brass and bullet. 
  • Caliber, when talking about handguns (rifles are different) is the diameter of the gun barrel into which a cartridge fits and NOT the diameter of the bullet itself. That said, the two measurements are very close, as you want the bullet to be a tight fit within the barrel. 

All right. That said, look at this picture and gasp in amazement when I tell you that all three of these are .45 caliber.

What you are looking at here is a difference in case sizes. From left to right:
  • .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). Used in semi-auto pistols. 
  • .45 Colt (aka Long Colt). This cartridge has a rimmed case and is used in revolvers.
  • .45-70 (aka .45 Government). This is a rifle round, although some monstrous hand cannons are chambered for it. For the curious, the 70 is the weight of the powder charge in grains.

Even though all three are .45 caliber, do not assume they will fit any .45 firearm!
  • Put an ACP into a revolver? The cartridge will fall out of the cylinder. 
  • Put a Long Colt into an automatic (assuming it will fit)? The gun will jam. 
  • Put either of these into a .45-70 rifle? ... I don't know what will happen, but I want to be a safe distance away, preferably behind something very solid.

Therefore, today's lesson is this: caliber is not the only indicator of cartridge compatibility. Case length is also essential. So read your ammunition carefully! And don't feel bad when you have a case of derp. I  just now realized that .45 revolvers and .45 automatics don't take the same cartridge.

 But I learned something, and that's what is important!

Monday Gunday: How to shop for guns

First, a brief disclaimer of what this article is not:
  • It is not a discussion about which caliber is better. The arguments about "9mm vs. .45 cal" are right up there with politics, religion and sports. My only advice is "Try everything and go with whatever fits your stature, needs and budget." If you're comfortable with it, you'll practice with it and will be ready to use it when the time comes; if you're not comfortable with it, then it's an expensive (and useless) paperweight.
  • It is not a discussion about whether revolvers or semi-autos are better. That's also a hot topic, but it resides more firmly in the realm of personal choice than the murky field of handgun ballistics. A great article on the pros and cons of each may be found here.
  • It is not a discussion about price. Once you know what you want, some Googling should tell you what your weapon of choice is selling for these days (and it's almost always about 20%  less than what the manufacturer suggests -- unless the piece is very rare it never sells for more than MSRP.) Find the best intersection of reliability, brand name, and logistical convenience*, and you'll know your price point.
    * Example: 9mm is the most common defensive handgun caliber in the world, as it is the pistol of choice for police and military units. This means that the ammunition will be cheap and plentiful due to market pressure.
What this article IS about, however,  is how you should dress and act when you are shopping for guns, be it a fact-finding expedition of window-shopping and test-fitting, or a purpose-driven "I know what I want and what I'm willing to pay, now let's go get it."

Buying a gun is no different from buying a car. You don't have to be a mechanic to choose the car that's right for you; in the same vein, you don't have to be marksman to buy a firearm. But you need to know what you want, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

A) Dress for the range
You are expected to test-drive a car before buying it, so why not test-shoot a gun before buying it?

Assume that you will be given the option to test-fire various guns (and if this is your first rodeo, yes, you really do need to try before you buy.)  This means the following:
  1. No low-cut tops
  2. No open shoes of any kind. 
Hot brass ejected from a gun has the amazing ability to home in on both soft skin and close confines. Your outfit may be cute, ladies, but all it takes is one hot brass in your cleavage to make you learn interesting new swear words. And don't assume that just because you're shooting a revolver that you're safe; you'll need to dump the brass from the cylinder at some point and if you're wearing slip-on flats or sandals, a case could fall and find its way between your toes or under your arch. And if nothing else, you are liable to be sharing the range with other people; you have to be aware of their brass just as much as your own.

Here's what you should wear while shooting:
  1. Crew-neck t-shirt 
  2. Knee-length shorts, if not full-length jeans
  3. Lace-up sneakers or full-size boots
  4. Baseball-style brimmed hat
The hat will keep the sun out of your eyes while shooting, and will keep the hot brass off of your head. Yes, I have had brass bounce off the top of my head before.

B) Look the part
I hate to say "dress like a redneck" but the fact remains that if you walk into a gun store with emo hair, baggy pants or long flowing sleeves, you will likely not be taken seriously by the folks (usually men) behind the counter. I'm not suggesting that you need to dress in fatigues and carry yourself like a SEAL, but you should look like someone smart, sensible and dependable enough to buy and own a gun. Looking like a thug, a raver, a party girl or a hippie will get you incredibly poor service, if not thrown out of the store outright.

If you aren't planning to test-shoot and are just window-shopping, then business casual attire is fine. Looking clean-cut in a polo shirt and khakis is fine for gentlemen; ladies should avoid skirts or dresses of all kinds and go with pantsuits. The more commanding, professional and executive you look, the better service you are likely to get. Remember, gun stores want your money. If you look like you have it, they will do their best to earn it.

C) Blend in
But what if you're not in a gun store, but are instead attending a gun show? The rules are similar.

The thing to keep in mind is that gun shows are basically conventions: lots of people milling around various tables. However, unlike gun stores, you'll have to deal with all the other show attendees, who will be jostling for position and may be competing with you for merchandise (prices at shows are more fluid and open to negotiation at shows, mainly because the majority of the vendors are from out-of-town and don't want to haul inventory back home). Therefore, if you look like a metrosexual or a hippie (or, god help you, a fag -- look, I don't judge, but a lot people in this culture do) your experience is likely to be unpleasant.

What to wear:
  1. Sensible shoes! You'll be on your feet a lot, and if it's really crowded, other people will be on your feet, too. Cowboy boots will also work.
  2. Pants with actual pockets (ladies...). Jeans are ideal for this. 
  3. A sturdy belt. If it looks and feels like you could carry a gun on it, perfect!
  4. Either a button-up flannel shirt (striped cotton during the summer is fine) or a t-shirt. If the t-shirt has a design on it, make sure it's either patriotic in some form, or represent a local sports team or a classic rock band. If it's a plain shirt, get a bold color like red, blue, or army green. 
  5. A hat. Either a baseball hat or a stetson. 
In short, if you feel like you're dressed to attend a rodeo, NASCAR race or monster truck event, you are attired properly and will not attract unwanted attention. 

Is this a little bit racist? Probably. But you wouldn't wear a dress to a football game, would you? Shooting is as much a hobby lifestyle as being a gamer, or a raver, or a sports fan. You need to be taken seriously when shopping for a gun, especially when you have questions you need answered. Gun shops are far more likely to take their time and explain things to you if you are dressed in a manner respectful to the culture.

D) How to act
As I said before, don't swagger. Don't pretend to know things. If you are confused or ignorant about something, ask! The manner in which they respond to you will speak volumes about what kind of people they are, and if they deserve your money.

Explain that you are new. Explain what you need the gun for, and what kind of features or performance you'd like. If you are scared of guns but still want to get one, mention that, too; most sellers will take extra time to assure you that it isn't loaded, how it works, how it cannot possibly "go off" if it's just sitting there.

If they are at all impatient or disdainful to you, leave and never come back.

Many salesmen (and they are almost always men) will first ask you "How much are you willing to spend?" My advice to you is that you never answer with a number. Just say something like "I'm exploring my options" or "I'm just doing price-comparisons." Then immediately pick a gun that looks interesting and ask "How much is that one?" The moment they have you pigeonholed into a price bracket, they will either try to sell you the most expensive thing within that bracket, or dismiss you as not worth their time. The only time you, the customer, should mention numbers is when you are ready to buy.

E) If you're a woman
Realize that you're entering a traditionally male-dominated area. This is not exactly a terrible thing; many men are very polite to female shooters. However, there is the possibility you will run into what is known as "little lady syndrome," where they will try to sell you the smallest, daintiest revolver possible, or (worse) ignore you and talk to your husband/boyfriend/brother/father instead. Usually, this last happens when the male relative decides that the female relative needs a gun and drags her along. Nine times out of ten, she doesn't really want the gun and it ends up gathering dust in a drawer.

Assuming you are a woman who wants a gun, there are few things you can do.
  1. Ask if there are any female salesclerks who can help you. If so, this will solve most of your problems right there. 
  2. Don't be intimidated. If you want a gun, then don't be afraid to speak up. Think of it like shoe shopping: try things on, ask questions, be picky, find out of they come in other colors or have interchangeable grips or what kinds of accessories you can get with them. 
  3. If you're there with husband/boyfriend/etc, make it clear to him that his only purpose is to buy you the gun. If he wants you to have it, then he wants you to shoot it; explain that you'll only shoot a gun whose looks and ergonomics meets your specifications. Ask him for advice, yes; don't be pressured to get what he thinks you should get. 
  4. To reiterate: Get what YOU want, not what they think you want. 
  5. Try lots of different calibers in different configurations. The recoil of a .38 from a revolver may be too much, but a semi-auto .45 might be just right for you (heavier gun means less kick from the round). If the grips from a double-stack magazine are too large for your hand, try a single-stack.
For more advice and information, read the article "Gun Store Miss Adventures" over at Cornered Cat. Heck, read the whole website! There's a lot of good stuff there.

Pony Updates

Based on feedback from my playtest group, Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome has been revised to version 2.0. The link to the PDF may be found, as ever, here.

Later today (Monday) I hope to finish writing a companion piece to it -- the Ponymaster's Guide.  Inside the PMG will be additional optional rules, some thoughts on how UP:FiA is different from regular RPGs and should be played as such, and sample NPCs -- both the statted-up Mane 6 and the PCs used in  my playtest, and possibly others.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WNW: Supersonic Rain-BLAM!

How to make a My Little Pistol:

Screw you, I think it's pretty.
  1. Buy a Sig Sauer P238 Rainbow
  2. Get the frame titanium coated to match the slide. 
  3. Get custom grips with a cutie mark.

Congratulations, you now have a Sig Sauer P238 Rainbow Dash. Top it off with a custom MLP holster from, say, Evyl Robot and you're all set.

Unknown Ponies after-action report

Dear Princess Celestia, 

Last Sunday I ran a game of Unknown Ponies to beta test the blank-flank rules and "failure is awesome" mechanic. The game was awesome, which meant that I failed. :(

Well, okay, maybe it wasn't as bad as all that, but... ergh. I learned a lot from this session, which I will detail below.

I had four players for this game:
Jeff played earth pony Dabinett (it's a kind of apple, but the name left the rest of the players going "huh?" Next time I should just call him Dabby Apple and have done with it). Hailing from Appleloosa, he was spending the summer at Sweet Apple Acres to help out while Granny Smith recovered from hip surgery. He had some strange ideas about politics and was fond of spouting pro-Luna and anti-Celestia rhetoric, and could best be described as "hard-working proletarian pony."

Jennifer was the only one of this group to have previously played in my New Year's Day game (as Pinkie Pie). She played Scarlet Shimmer,  a unicorn pony with a passion for mysteries and a surprisingly violent streak, as she was the first in the party to suggest starting fires and defenestration. Apparently the shimmering scarlet is in fact a blood trail, and she is a budding psychopath in training. I'm pretty sure she is Equestria's version of this girl:

Lockheart, played by Friendship is Dragons writer Newbiespud, was in many ways the token Vulcan of the group, as he prefers rationality over emotion (his heart is locked, you see?) and was theoretically the normalizing influence on the group. Interestingly, he has a fear of zombies (zombponies, actually). He and Scarlet are good friends, which makes me think he is the Dexter to her Sylar.

Lastly, this fellow here is Nightsky Star, a pegasus astronomy enthusiast. The typical asocial science nerd, he was played by Adam "Barking Alien" Dickstein, and any resemblance to Piro from Megatokyo is purely coincidental. Adam is the only player here who isn't a fan of the show. In fact, he hasn't seen any of the episodes. Truth be told, I had to twist his arm to get him to play, citing his "I'll try any game once" quote against him until he relented.

Ironically, Adam was the downfall of my game, but it wasn't his fault. It was mine. To whit:

1. Know your genre
As I have said before, My Little Pony is a fantasy RPG hiding behind pastel cartoon horses. Therefore, many D&D tropes carry over quite well, and I demonstrated that in my New Year's Day game where I basically ripped off the plot of The Sunless Garden.

However, Adam hates fantasy. He's a sci-fi kind of guy, and as the lone non-brony I felt it was my duty to make the game as accessible to him as possible, because the other three would probably have had a blast if I had them all role-play a birthday party. To that end I crafted a scenario involving Doctor Whooves , a disaster involving an Ursa Major falling from orbit, fixed points in time, and a cabal of royal unicorn astronomers called the Collegium of Educated and Rational uNicorns. (Sadly, no one got the CERN joke. At all. Dead air, in fact. Crickets.)

To cut a very long story very short: Despite all the fan love for Doctor Whooves, sci-fi does NOT work in this setting. At all. Ever. It was a complete failure.

Basically, the aesop of the adventure was "When a disaster threatens a community, the entire community should band together to face it. What an individual cannot accomplish, a group can."  Sadly, this runs completely counter to the theme of Doctor Who, which is all about "One person, in the right place and the right time, can make all the difference."  The players, realizing this was a Who adventure, started riffing off of those tropes instead of the pony tropes of cooperation and knowing when to ask for help.

2. Manage expectations
This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. Don't run a world-shattering adventure when your players are expecting birthday parties, or at the very least, make it plain what kind of behavior you expect from them.

Part of the reason they found this adventure so hard was because they didn't spend a lot of time earning points on the Friendship Track, which would have made it easier to effect critical changes in the plot. I'm not sure if this was simple unfamiliarity with the system, or poor GMing on my part, but I feel I should have been clearer and more insistent that "The more you act like traditional PCs, the harder it is. Acting like friends will earn you points that can aid in the adventure."

3. Don't set the beginning bar so high
Again, no world-ending adventures with starting PCs. (Yes, it worked fine for the Mane 6, but they already had their cutie marks by this point.)

Also, while the 1% advancement mechanic was fine, the PCs failed a lot and were becoming quite frustrated towards the end. Post-game analysis indicates that starting skills at 25% rather than 15% is preferable, as it still provides a large margin for failure while giving a decent chance for success.

This means that I will need to revisit my rules and re-jigger the numbers... sigh.

4. Play your characters, not the game
I am not accusing anyone of metagaming. What I am saying is that, the characters acted more like traditional RPG characters and less like actual ponies. (Again, probably the fault of the sci-fi influence) I wish I knew a handy way of enforcing genre. There is a carrot in the form of Friendship Points, but I need a stick as well.

In conclusion
The entire mess was pretty much a gigantic failure, and yet somehow the players managed to have a good time anyway. I think even Adam was amused, although his comment of "After this, I need to watch football to feel like a man again. And I hate football!" rubbed me the wrong way.

So, yeah. The engine itself works fine, and with the previously-mentioned modifications I think it'll be a fine game. As a social experiment, however, it failed awesomely.

Oh well. At least I gained +1% to my GM skill.

Your faithful student, 
Erin Palette

Image courtesy of Arkhein at Rather Gamey.

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