Friday, November 30, 2012

The Sun Sets on Paragon City

Today is the final day of City of Heroes. If you haven't backed up your heroes, do so now.

I'll be online when they shut down the game at midnight Pacific time. If you see me, say hello.

And in conclusion, BOYCOTT NCSOFT. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Less than $45 dollars until Ye Olde Handgonne Raffle reaches Stretch Goal #3. When this happens you will be eligible to win all this:

  • Jackalope Rifle Company 50 caliber handgonne
  • A supply of 50 call bullets
  • miscellaneous shot, patches, lube and fuse
  • A ramrod, lighter, touch hole pick, and powder measure
  • A powder horn and two pounds of 3F black powder (shipping restrictions apply).
To enter this contest, go to Tam's place and donate. After you donate, forward the e-mail receipt to Jennifer at with the code JACK in the subject line.
  • $15 dollars gets you a single solitary ticket.
  • $25 gets you two tickets. 
  • $50 gets you five tickets. 
The drawing is on December 10th, so if you want to enter you'd better hurry! And remember, if you donated to the Care Box of Magical Giggles, your total ticket count will go up by 50% (rounded up). So if you sent something in, you have no good reason NOT to buy a ticket or ten.


Palette's Product Reviews: the Handi-Racker

The Handi-Racker first came to my attention courtesy of Say Uncle, who got it from Everyday No Days Off, who got it from Average Joe's Handgun Reviews.  The Handi-Racker is, essentially, a chunk of machined plastic that fits over the slide of a semi-auto pistol so that people with weak hand strength can employ a mechanical advantage when racking the slide.

Naturally, the comment sections of those articles are filled with the obligatory "Hurr durr this is dumb you won't have time to use it during a gunfight" nonsense. To this I say: Hey morons, you are missing the point of this tool. 

While you certainly could use this to rack the slide in a self-defense situation, if you carry with a loaded chamber and safety on, you won't need to. Instead, the point of this is to enable people with arthritis, low grip strength, or other physical ailments to rack the slide from hammer down position after cleaning it.

In other words, you use this at home in a non-stress situation, because it is a freaking tool. You keep it with your brushes and wrenches, because it is a tool.


Anyway, my mother has precisely the problem the Handi-Racker was made to solve, due to rheumatoid arthritis in her hands. She can, with difficulty, load a round into the chamber of her PMR-30 if the striker has already been cocked, but if the striker is fully down she lacks the strength -- yes, even using the hip-method endorsed by Kathy Jackson of Cornered Cat -- to rack the slide. This meant that the Handi-Racker would be the perfect tool for her.

A video of what the Handi-Racker is and how it works.

I emailed the gentleman who makes the Handi-Racker -- a gunsmith from Iowa named Chris McAninch -- explaining that I was a reviewer and that I wanted to buy his product, but I didn't know which size racker would fit the PMR-30. Mr. McAninch promptly replied that if I bought one and reviewed it, he'd send me the other two for free.

That was two days ago. Today I received it in the mail. I give McAninch massive points for quick shipping, as I am the impatient sort.

I retrieved my mom's PMR-30 and after I unloaded it I began experimenting with the Handi-Racker. It may come as a surprise to folks that, even though the PMR is a full-size pistol, its .22WMR barrel is tiny and therefore needs the small (blue) racker.*

About the worst thing I can say about the Handi-Racker is that the plastic sides strike me as being too slick to get a decent grip.* Like many other reviewers, I would recommend some way of increasing grip surface area, either by the addition of grip tape or by taking a Dremel or soldering iron to it and stippling/carving channels into it.

Here is the best thing I can say: It works for my 73-year-old arthritic mother. Prior to this, my mother could rack the slide with the striker already back, but when the striker was down she couldn't get it to budge. With the use of the Handi-Racker, she was able to completely rack the slide.

Some of you, no doubt, are saying "This puts the user in danger of being shot."  I will concede that this is a possibility IF the user is racking the slide with a full magazine. The manual of arms which I taught my mother goes like this:

  1. We begin with the chamber being verifiably unloaded. This is not an unreasonable assumption, as if it were loaded mom would be able to rack the slide in the normal fashion and eject the bullet. If she cannot, then the striker must be down, and as this is a semi-auto, the chamber must perforce be empty. 
  2. Remove the magazine. 
  3. Use the Handi-Racker to rack the slide. 
  4. Engage safety (Because, weirdly, the safety on the PMR-30 will not engage when the striker is down on an empty chamber. I do not know why this is so.)
  5. Insert magazine into pistol. 
  6. Rack the slide again, this time without the Handi-Racker. With the striker already back, this is much easier. 
  7. The gun is now in Condition One and is ready to be holstered. 

In Conclusion: It does what it says it does. An excellent product, I would recommend this to everyone who has trouble racking the slide of their semi-auto pistol. 

The Handi-Racker normally retails for $24.99 but may be bought for an introductory price of $19.99, with $7 shipping. It is 100% American-made, and your purchase supports a small business.

Obligatory FTC disclaimer:  as stated above, I bought one and got the other two for free. I was not paid to give a good review. 

* EDITED TO ADD:  I just got off the phone with McAninch after a terse  "Erin, If you have a minute. Please call me" email. My immediate response was "Oh crap, I've offended him in some way" and when I called him I was worried about what I could have possibly done wrong.

As it turns out, I (and all of the other reviewers) have been using the Handi-Racker improperly.  As McAninch explained over the phone, the Handi-Racker is meant to be placed against a wall or a table, with the operator's hand simply holding the plastic in place on top of the gun. This affords the following benefits:

  1. No one's hands or fingers go in front of the muzzle. 
  2. Users can utilize their full body weight to rack the slide. 
  3. The Handi-Racker can be used to safely load and unload the pistol, provided one is mindful of Rule #4
As soon as he told me this, I immediately went "WELL DERP" because now it is blindingly obvious that's how it should be used.  I did however take him to task for a poor photograph -- a white chunk of plastic against a white background does not illustrate the point well.  Hopefully, this explanation and a new photograph will eliminate further confusion.

With this in mind, I must amend my earlier statement and say that given the length of the PMR-30 barrel, it is now the large (black and yellow) racker which must be used. It wiggles a bit on the slide, but since we are using linear force to hold it in place rather than lateral, that is much less of an issue. 

I must also amend my rating: 
The Handi-Racker is now an A+ product. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hangin' with Oleg, part 2

So the first time I met Oleg, I had just driven two hours from my home in Daytona Beach to a Holiday Inn near Cocoa. He was a gentleman who opened doors for me and bought me dinner. He operates under the marvelous philosophy of "I shouldn't treat you any worse just because I'm not sleeping with you."  Apparently if you're worthy of hanging out with him, you deserve to be spoiled, and if you don't deserve spoilage then you have no business hanging out with him.

I don't know if I could practice this myself, but it is an absolute delight to experience.

So after a nice dinner and conversation (in which he managed to vibrate and to interrupt himself), he took me back to his hotel room so that he could call his girlfriend (Hi Amie!) and let me play with his Kel-Tec RFB.

No, that wasn't a euphemism. He really did have an RFB that he'd brought along for the feral pig hunt the next day. I actually got the chance to shoot that rifle, but that's a subject for another post. 

Anyway, after I had finished admiring his RFB he showed me some other cool things, such as Kel-Tec's new 420-lumen CL-43 flashlight.

Let me tell you how bright 420 lumens is. When Oleg showed it to me, it was still inside a white cardboard box. The cardboard was neither glossy nor matte; it likely had the same albedo as a sheet of printer paper. The flashlight was secured to the inside of that box with its clip.

When I pressed the "on" button, the light hit the lip of the box straight on. All I saw was reflected light because the lens was facing away from me.

The mere reflection of 420 lumens caused me physical pain, and I was seeing spots for minutes afterward. I think a direct blast from one of these will stun a human and probably incinerate small woodland creatures.

Naturally, I've asked Kel-Tec to send me one for review.

Another funny thing which happened:  Oleg thinks knife sharpening is wizardry. After recovering from my near-blinding, he was complaining that he had lost his pocket knife. I reached into my pocket and offered him mine. He said thank you, but no, he had another one, and then pulled out an impressive fixed blade with serrations from (I think) Columbia River Knife & Tool.  I unsheathed it to inspect the edge (because that's how I roll) and...

Oh dear. Oh, this poor knife. It had been terribly abused. First, there was a large divot in the blade, like it had been used to hammer roundstock. Second, the edge had begun to roll. And adding insult to injury, there was sticky tape residue all over it.

"This will not do!" I announced, and I pulled from my bag a the EZE-LAP pen sharpener that I keep nestled up against my multitool.
(No, seriously, this thing is awesome. It costs $8, has a flat side for blade and a curved side for serrations, and folds to 4 inches long and is effectively weightless. You cannot go wrong with buying it and keeping it in your EDC bag.)

The best part of my entire night happened right then and there, as Oleg's jaw dropped in amazement. This is pretty much the best reason to carry useful things -- there will be moments when you can bust out gear at the perfect moment like Batman, and people will look at you in awe -- doubly so in this instance, because he explained that he had no idea how to sharpen knives and greatly respected those who did.

So anyway, I start sharpening Oleg's knife while dropping some science on him. "The trick to sharpening a knife," I explained, "is knowing the right angle at which to hold the blade and the sharpener. You just have to practice enough in order to get the right feel for it. Once you have that figured out, sharpening is pretty easy. Just work the sharpener until you feel the opposite edge rolling over, and then you turn the knife and sharpen the other side. Do this until can't feel it rolling any more. Now in a perfect world I'd have several grains of sharpeners here, so I could work the edge with a fine and then a super fine, but this will have to do for the moment."

I couldn't fix the divot in the blade -- that would require a hell of a lot of grinding -- but pretty soon the knife was sharp enough to slice receipts without much effort. If I had been really cool I would have also had a small can of WD-40 to remove the sticky residue. Regardless, the blade was much improved.

After that it was time for me to begin my 2-hour drive home -- but not before Oleg invited me to join him on a hog hunt on Saturday. That story will be the subject of my next post.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stretch like you mean it!

Stretch goal #2* of Ye Olde Handgonne Raffle has almost been reached -- we just need a measly twenty more dollars to make this happen.
  • $15 dollars gets you a single solitary ticket. Ya cheapskate. 
  • $25 gets you two tickets. 
  • $50 gets you five tickets.
And remember, if you donated to the Care Box of Magical Giggles, your total ticket count will go up by 50% (rounded up). So if you sent something in, you have no good reason NOT to buy a ticket or ten.

* A ramrod, lighter, touch hole pick, and powder measure.

Kindle Fire for $129

I don't normally shill for companies like Amazon (they do just fine without my help), but seeing as how I am both a massive tech-nerd and a lover of saving money, I thought I would pass this on to you, my loyal readership:

My mom has been bugging me with "What do you want for Christmas?" and since most of what I want* (firearms) are outside of her price range, this did nicely. 

Task Force Hail Mary

Speaking of Plan Z for City of Heroes, Mercedes Lackey and a bunch of other people have put together a 31-page proposal for Disney Interactive to acquire the license for City of Heroes.

I'm going to cut and paste this, because 1) folks might not follow that link, and 2) word of mouth is important so I know she won't mind.

Today a 31 page pitch package aimed at persuading Disney Interactive to acquire City of Heroes arrived for both the CEO of Disney Productions and the CEO of Disney Interactive via Express Mail.

Ammon, Rae, Quinch and I--Internet Marketing Specialist, UK Journalist, Senior IT Tech and writer, Mercedes Lackey--put together a 31 page pitch package aimed specifically at Disney, to attempt to persuade the Mouse that picking up City of Heroes is in their best interest as well as ours. We had the advice and oversight of two senior members of the former Paragon Studios team--mostly to tell us what we could and could not say. Should there be an answer, it should be directed to Brian Clayton, the Paragon Studios manager, since we specified that we four had no power to do anything, and he is the man with all the answers.

Now it's your turn.

We have to impress the 900 lb gorilla--The Mouse himself--that buying the City is going to be good for them. We have to show them that we are loyal, passionate, dedicated, and mature. And we have money to spend. Remember, these are executives who are not impressed if genuine movie stars approach them with a pitch for something less than amazing.

We have to show the Mouse that in the right hands, City of Heroes can become the crown jewel among their electronic games.

We need you to write, avalanche with cards, letters, screenshots. We need a letter writing campaign that is ten, twenty, a hundred times bigger than the one we fired at NCSoft.

Go big, or go home, right? We have to go big.

Senior VP, Global Production, Disney Interactive Media Group
Jean-Marcel Nicolai
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521

Chairman of the Board of Directors
John Pepper Jr.
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521

CEO Walt Disney Company
Robert A. Iger,
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521

CEO Disney Interactive
John Pleasants
500 South Buena Vista Street,
Burbank, CA 91521-8139

We are asking you to put "SaveCoH" in the address, because we want the mail clerks to be able to sort out our letters quickly. We want them to see the ever-increasing pile, but in a way that helps the clerks do their jobs too.

Remember, these are people that get thousands of emails and letters. We have to impress them. We have to show them the City is something special. Write letters, recruit your friends, your relatives, anyone who might be sympathetic. Write as if this is our only chance. And good luck to all of us.

But don't think that we're done if nothing happens. Should we not hit the mark here, we've only started, and we have a second target in our sights.

Original post at the Titan Network Forums.

This part is also important:
Above all avoid ANYTHING that looks like a form letter. Each of these men has a specific role in the company. Tailor your letters to that role.

Iger is the head of the company. What does HE want? Possibly he wants to drive adults (who hold the wallets) to the Disney site?

Pepper and Pleasants are Disney Interactive. What do THEY want? Disney has no game to fill the teen-to-adult demographic. Disney has no game the whole family can play. Emphasize our community. Relate it all to you, and how you are then likely to spend money at the Mouse Lair.

The Chairman of the Board wants to hear how this will affect the stock price. Point out the positive buzz this would generate, and that taking on something relatively small after the Lucas purchase shows Disney is still attending to the details.

"Gee I'd love to see some Portal Mishes with Kingdom Hearts characters!"

"It would be great to have alternate universe mishes with Spiderman, or with the Jedi!"

"I'd love to see some kid-specific content I could play with my 5 year old on my lap!"

Be creative, and above all, always relate it back to yourself and your story. Disney markets itself to family. We need to bring them the whole family.

We are heroes. This is why we fight. This is what we do.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Tamalanche has begun

The Care Package o' Fun was delivered to Roseholme Cottage today!  (If your stuff is still in the mail, do not worry; your goodies will be delivered later.)

The_Jack was kind enough to be our main point of contact and will post pictures of all the loot later today, and Brigid who was there taking pictures will no doubt give us a detailed description of the hijinks that ensued.

However, first I get to post pictures of the unboxing!

Here is the Mistress of Snark opening the Box O' Fun with some kind of dagger. I wonder what could be inside?

Could it be... ponies??


Look at that smile! You just know she loves her adorable little doppleganger.

And lest you think she was just being polite...

And yes, that pony has a Tam-style ballcap and what is probably an H&K SMG.  There's actually a funny story to all this..

A while back, Brigid was telling me the story of Tam and the Kinko's ID debacle. She described Tamara as tall, blonde, soft-spoken, and having THE STARE. This immediately made me think of ponies (because many things do, honestly), specifically the character Fluttershy -- a soft-spoken pony with a yellow coat and THE STARE.

Obviously, Tamara is Fluttershy. Therefore, Tamshy.

So when Tam announced she had basal cell cancer, I thought it would be hilarious to send her some DVD episodes of My Little Pony, and I conscripted The_Jack to buy some MLP toys and equip them with toy guns:

I am sworn to secrecy as to where The_Jack found a black ball cap in the right scale.

Also included in the box:  a deliciously trashy romance novel about time-traveling Vikings who become Navy SEALS!

I won't name the person who bought it (for their own protection, no doubt), but I appreciate your efforts, anonymous donor!

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to Back Up your City of Heroes Characters

With less than a week until City of Heroes shuts down forever (and if that angers you as much as it does me, go take a look at how NCSoft's stocks are tanking to help take the edge off), it's time to discuss how best to preserve your character data in the slim hope that Plan Z -- "a new MMO in the spirit of CoH but owned by the community and with its own IP so as to be completely free of NCSoft in any way, shape, or form" -- actually comes to fruition.

So here's what I know, and if anyone else sees a mistake or knows a better way to do it, please leave a comment below!

  1. Download the Sentinel+ extractor.
  2. Log in to City of Heroes. 
  3. Pick the character you want to save and enter the game. 
  4. In the text box, write /info_self and hit enter. 
  5. Tab out of CoH and run the extractor by double-clicking the icon. 
  6. A window will pop up, telling you that you have successfully saved the character. 
  7. Log out of the character and repeat. 

Now, a few disclaimers:
  • I have no idea if this will save Supergroup or Auction House data, so if you have goodies in the AH or base storage that you want saved, it's a good idea to pull them into personal inventory before you run the extractor. 
  • Similarly, if you have stuff in the mail like enhancements or influence, you might want to grab that too. 
  • Your data will be saved in the same folder as the extractor. I really, really, really recommend you back it up to the cloud or a thumb drive or a CD-ROM or whatever, just in case your hard drive suddenly decides to stop working. 

Finally, if you are a long-time player with tons of characters and whose subscription has lapsed, you will find yourself in a bind as you will likely have more characters than unlocked slots. Fear not! There is a way around this.
  1. If you have Paragoin Points left over, you can purchase more character slots. This is the way to go if you want to try to save SG data. 
  2. Next, log in to the forums here to use the Character Copy Tool. I'm not sure if it will let you register if you don't already have a login. I hope it does, but if not -- sorry, you're screwed. 
  3. Transfer your remaining unlocked characters to the Beta Server. 
  4. Download and install the Beta Server on your computer using the BCSoft Launcher. 
  5. Please note how damn near everything on Beta Server costs you zero points. I'm not saying you should abuse this to get tons of free stuff just in case Plan Z works, but I won't ever know if you do, so...
  6. At any rate, you can buy (for free) as many server slots as you want. Use these to unlock your transferred characters. 
  7. Download the Extractor for Beta Server
  8. Repeat the steps I listed earlier. 
  9. If you have run out of room, you may delete the characters on Beta to free up the slots, and then transfer more characters for copying.
  10. Make sure your character data is safely backed up. 

And that's it, so far as I know. I hope you find this helpful and informative. Until then...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Yep, it's like that.

H/T to The_Jack for giving me the idea.

Happy Thanksgiving, everypony.

Thank You

Thank you, dear readers, for being my friends and online family.  There are times where I feel very alone in the world, but it warms my heart to know that so many of you care about someone whom you've never met.

You welcomed me into your ranks, when I was but an idiot beginner. (I'm still an idiot.) Thank you for that.

You gave me the money to buy a pistol and a permit and ammo and magazines and all sorts of other thing. Thank you for that.

You give me sympathy when I whine, and advice when I need it. Thank you for that.

You encourage me to succeed, help pick me up when I fail, and keep me from getting too big of an ego. Thank you for that.

You want to meet me in person, and are very gentle with my neuroses. Those few of you that I've met in real life have been nothing but kind and accepting to me. Thank you for that.

You make me feel connected, such that when one of you is in trouble, I don't feel like I'm acting improperly by asking about you, or giving you money, or organizing donations. Thank you for that.

You make me feel loved, and I cannot put a price on that. Thank you so very, very much. I love you too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pellatarrum: My Goblins are Different

Quick, name a fantasy race that is known for:
  • Being short
  • Having a high birth rate
  • Living in crowded communities
  • Eating voraciously
If you said "goblins," you are correct (and lazy, because you read the post title). If, however, you said "halflings", you are also correct (and are quite astute). 

What's interesting about these two races is that, in Pellatarrum, they are the same species. 

Lost History
As mentioned earlier, the origin of the halfling race is not generally known. They were not present when the Elder Races appeared, nor were they created to be servitor races. They just appeared one day. 

Goblins, on the other hand, are assumed to be one of the many races that the orcs created for their great armies. If the great civilization of the orcs had not been toppled and their history lost to the ages, it might be possible to discover that no, goblins were not specifically engineered alongside ogres, bugbears, hobgoblins and the rest. They too just appeared one day and were drafted into the orcish legions. 

(In the orcs' defense, there were dozens of races being created, and it was difficult to keep track of them all. Besides, the goblins wanted to join.)

The Great Secret
What the scholars and historians seem to forget -- or keep overlooking -- is that there are six elemental planes surrounding Pellatarrum, not just four. The Positive and Negative Energy planes are also elemental, embodying the primordial forces of Creation and Entropy. 

Is it any great surprise, then, that on a world which was purposefully designed to exist on an elemental nexus, representatives of Life and Death should manifest?  Life ex nihilo is Positive Energy's stock in trade, and Pellatarrum is bathed in that radiance. Similarly, where there is light there is shadow, and therefore incarnations of entropy also were begat. 

This is, incidentally, why no kobold has ever kidnapped a halfling (or goblin) child: they cannot be cross-bred. The purity of their lineage prevents the dilution of their seed. 

However, this raises a far more interesting question:  what happens when you cross a halfling with a goblin?

Answer: a dead body. There is never any kind of socialization between the two peoples. There is never any sex, just rage and murder and hate. 

Fear and Loathing
Halflings and Goblins hate each other on a level that makes "genocidal" seem like an understatement. To understand why, you must first realize how closely they are related. 

Make a halfling feral and cannibal, and you have a goblin. Bathe a goblin and teach it manners, and you have a halfling. They are as identical as they are opposites, because flip sides of a coin are still from the same coin. They hate each other not because of their differences, but because of their similarities; each race sees the other as a twisted perversion of themselves. 

If you are thinking of the seelie/unseelie division of folklore, you are on the right track, but there is more to it than that. There is also the "dark mirror" aspect -- "I see in you everything I hate about myself, and it fills me with shame, and since it is easier to hate another than it is to hate myself, I will hate you and kill you for my failings."

This deep and abiding shame is why both races do not talk about their similarities (which anger them) or their origins (which would just invite questions). It is rather like having a family member who is a child molester -- better to privately burn in shame, and attempt to quietly excise that branch of the family tree, than to have it be known and invite shame upon all.*

Like a Switch
That said, it is still possible for halflings to go bad, or for goblins to go good. It is a rare event, but when a halfling succumbs to despondence, it experiences a kind of phase-shift and becomes a goblin. Likewise, a goblin afflicted with mania will "see the light" and become a halfling.  

This event is rare because both races have a strong community, and when a potential change is expected rapid and effective responses are mustered. If the afflicted individuals are lucky, they are exposed to the counter-element and the change is prevented. If they are unlucky, or the community response is late in coming or is insufficient, that individual... disappears.

In halfling communities, they are said to have "gotten the wanderlust" and have gone off in search of adventure. In goblin warrens, they end up in the stewpot. 

In the rare instances that an individual survives the transition -- either through isolation or escape -- they wander off in search of a new community, which will welcome them as though they are long-lost cousins. 

Which they are, truthfully. 

Physical Differences
Despite being the same species, halflings and goblins are physically different on a scale that goes beyond mere cosmetics. When one of them changes into the other, they experience not just a change in their mindset, but also in their physiology. 

A halfling is essentially a short human with slightly pointed ears and certain body parts (feet, head and hands) that are just a bit too large for their frame in the same way that the heads of children are out of scale, or puppies have huge paws. There is just something about their appearance that suggests cuteness and vulnerability in humanoid viewers, and this is often a source of mild irritation for a halfling who wishes to be taken seriously -- especially if they are older than the viewer. 

If it helps, imagine what a leprechaun would look like if it were drawn in an anime style. 

Goblins, on the other hand, are feral. While halflings stand up straight and are adapted to the light, goblins are hunched over and optimized for the darkness. Their jaws unhinge for eating objects larger than their mouths, and their teeth are wickedly sharp. Their eyes are mostly pupil, and their ears can rotate like a dog. They are hairless, and their skin hues are earth tones. They are skulking grotesques that inspire revulsion.

The physical difference between goblins and halflings is more explicit and physically divergent than those between Gollum and other hobbits, but the overall dynamic is similar. These changes are due to their vulnerability to positive and negative energy -- any spell or effect which channels radiant or necrotic energy that affects them is doubled in intensity as it alters their very forms. In other words, what is simple healing to most races affects them on a deeper, more fundamental level.

Changing between the two forms is not magical; it cannot be dispelled, nor can it be reversed except through exposure to the counter-element. It is a swift change, but not immediate nor drastic -- an observer not playing close attention could miss the signs until it was too late.  Most of the changes are behavioral, with a shift in thought processes affecting body movement. Think "zombie infection" rather than "lycanthropic shapeshifting."

It is interesting to note that goblins and halflings recognize each other on sight. No amount of disguise or acting can prevent it, although illusory magic can.

Language and Culture
Other than these differences, both races have an amazing ability to blend in with other cultures. They both speak Common, and whatever language is used by the races surrounding them. They adopt many of the cultures and mores of the people around them, with their boisterousness serving to make them seem "like us, but moreso" to those who might otherwise wish them harm. 

This is due mainly to the fact that while the Elder Races appeared with hundreds or thousands of years of history for their cultures, halflings and goblins just appeared out of nothing. Without any real civilization of their own -- no history to support them, no traditions to guide them -- they just borrowed those of the races nearby and made them their own.

They are, in essence, the greatest social chameleons -- and culture thieves -- that Pellatarrum has ever seen. 

It's the Little Things that Matter
Halfling and goblin society is remarkably similar -- they differ only in intent and degrees:
  • Both are voracious omnivores; goblins are simply less picky in what they eat.
  • Both reproduce rapidly; halflings just take care of their offspring with more care (the difference between "children" and "spawn" is critical.) 
  • Both are comfortable underground, but while goblins have warrens, halflings have burrows. 
  • Both like kites. Goblins just make theirs from the skin and bones of their victims, with entrail streamers. 
  • One is a community where members look out for one another; the other is a pack/tribe where Social Darwinism is the order of the day. 

* Private Things are Private
This of course raises the question, "What happens when player characters discover this secret?"

It should first be mentioned that there is no real reason why the DM should feel a need to suppress this knowledge. The game world will not end if the secret origin of these two races is revealed. Indeed, it is entirely possible that it is already known by sages and scholars. 

It's what the PCs do with this knowledge that is important. As mentioned, both halflings and goblins feel this is a deeply shameful secret -- so shameful that they are willing to commit mass murder in order to conceal it. 

Are the PCs really so dim that they do not see the disaster inherent in the notion of blackmailing a people who fit in everywhere and are prevalent within the hospitality industry? Or in exposing the shame of a race of spies, sneak thieves and assassins?

If they are, then they deserve to disappear quietly in the night while they sleep at an inn, or never leave a quiet town in a deep valley. After all, how else do you think the halflings get the marvelous fertilizer they need to grow their delicious crops?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Surely this is the end of days...

... because a miracle has occurred:  Someone has rendered Justin Bieber's music listenable.  Sure, they had to slow it down 800%, but still.

As someone else observed, this is AMAZING background music to use in role-playing games. It has a haunted forest/ epic wilderness vibe that is somehow both creepy and relaxing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hangin' with Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk -- gunnie, photographer, and friend of this blog -- was in Florida this week doing work down at Kel-Tec, and so I had the opportunity to spend most of the weekend  hanging out with him. Despite my previously-stated aversion to meeting people in public, I leaped at this opportunity.

I can't adequately describe in a single blog post the events that happened, because there was just so much that happened, and a lot of these events (such as firing the KSG and RFB) require their own posts.

The fact that I can milk these for several entries is just icing.

For those of you who haven't met Oleg, he is a unique individual. Just for laughs, here are some amusing facts about him you may not know:

  • He looks remarkably like Alan Cumming. Specifically, Alan Cumming's role as Boris Grishenko in Goldeneye. You probably think I'm exaggerating, but I promise you that it's true.

  • The first time I met him, he was so incredibly amped up that I swear I saw his right arm vibrating.  He also talks a million miles a second and his conversations veer so sharply that half the time I think he interrupts himself. 
  • Between the accent and the motion and the photography, he's basically a human version of Photo Finish
  • He's nowhere near as arrogant or pretentious, of course. But the constant "and now... WE GO!" vibe is strong with him. 
  • Which is funny, because the man himself is like a human Valium. Always soft spoken, always very calm and zen. In fact, the only time his voice approaches what I would consider to be an acceptable level of volume is when he's talking to his parents in Russian. 
  • It just seems like the entire world constantly whirls around him while he manages to remain the calm center of everything. I like to refer to him as "The Entil'Zha of the Gunnie World," and if you don't get that reference then you should be ashamed of yourself for missing some excellent science fiction
  • He apparently thinks the ability to sharpen a knife is wizardry. 

In the time I was hanging with Oleg, the following things happened:
  • I was convinced at least twice that I was about to die. 
  • I found myself chasing a feral pig whilst holding his camera. 
  • I got to shoot a KSG, an RFB and an SU-16. 
  • I was part of a zombie firing squad. 
  • I saw a target go boom from Tannerite. 
  • I nearly blinded myself with a flashlight. 
  • I had at least two moments of awesome when I was able to reach into my bag or my car and produce something utterly unexpected yet absolutely useful. 
  • In an amusing bit of role reversal, I got to take a picture of Oleg in front of the camera for a change:
I took this picture with his camera. 
So, yeah. In the course of a weekend I probably have a week's worth of posts. I will talk about amazing things and give reviews of the guns I shot. 

And I will probably name-drop shamelessly, because I crave attention and validation. Look at meeeeee!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Blogger Nuremberg Defense

Just a quick thought based upon the mocking tone of a news-scraping site that only goes after low-hanging fruit:

We've all heard the Nuremberg Defense:  "I was just following orders."  Interestingly enough, courts and courts-martial do not feel this is sufficient defense against performing acts which are morally wrong.

Then there's the Yuppie Nuremberg Defense: "I just need to pay the mortgage." This is usually claimed whenever someone has to do something distasteful/unethical/wrong in order to pay the bills. See: the TSA.

I posit that there is also a Blogger Nuremberg Defense. To whit: "Hey, you knew I was an asshole when you started reading this blog." In other words, if you the reader feel that something is in poor taste, it's your fault for feeling that way.  It's basically a non-apology in the guise of an apology.

Please note that this is not a call for censorship. You can say whatever the hell you want to say on your blog. I just feel that if you're going to be a douche, you should step up and own your words with a "Yeah, this is how I feel, and that's not going to change" rather than suggesting that your blog is some kind of subtle performance art and anyone who takes offense/doesn't find it funny is somehow not getting it.

Hell, I once lost readers because a good chunk of Canada couldn't take a joke (or understand satire, I'm not sure which.)  Kindly note that I owned my words and didn't apologize for them.

Some people may think that I've done exactly the same thing that I'm accusing the other blogger of doing. Well, maybe so, and if that's the case I'll own that, too. I don't think that I have, but maybe I'm wrong.  Whichever one it is, I stand by my opinions, and I won't apologize for them. I may apologize for the effects they cause -- Hey, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings -- but I won't ever apologize for my words unless I am proven to be factually wrong, e.g. I called you a lying shithead, and it was just proven to me that you weren't lying. I'm sorry I called you a liar. The shithead portion still stands.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Update on the Care Package Update

There are some folks who want to contribute money to Operation: Tamalanche (so help me, I am going to make that term stick) but for whatever reason are unable or unwilling to donate through PayPal, and wish to write her a check directly but do not know where to send it.

LET ME INFORM YOU that since folks are mailing goodies to be put into a Care Package, your checks will be right at home there.  Email me (erin DOT palette AT gmail DOT com) and I will send you the mailing address of Tamalanche Headquarters.

Thank you!

Monday Gunday: A Tale of Two Pistols

(It's Monday, right?  Yesterday felt like Sunday. It was a three-day weekend, after all. Close enough for government purposes and all of that.)

So last week, on the Tuesday before the election, I was finally able to get my mom out to the shooting range.  We brought the PMR-30 (this is the last post on this pistol, I promise,) as well as her S&W Bodyguard in .380.
I'm actually going to talk about the Bodyguard first, even though we shot it second.  Mom decided to get this pistol sometime in the summer because, frankly, she's had her heart set on an automatic from the moment we went pistol shopping. Even though she got the Ruger LCR,  it wasn't specifically what she wanted, and mama wants what she wants, so a few months later when she saw the Bodyguard 380 in the store she decided to get it.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: If you're going to buy a pistol, test fire it first.  Mom didn't do that. Instead, she just fiddled with the demonstration model a bit.

I feel it is important to point out at this time that the Bodyguard is double-action only (meaning that it has no hammer which can be cocked with your thumb). For this reason, it  has a long and heavy trigger pull. It's probably longer and heavier than is mechanically necessary -- I imagine S&W made it "worse" for the sake of safety i.e. they fully expected some folks to literally drop a loaded gun into their pockets without putting it in a holster first. With a long and heavy pull, it becomes difficult (though not impossible) to accidentally shoot yourself while you're un-pocketing the pistol.

Having said this, it should come as no surprise to anyone that, when it came time to shoot it, mom was unable to pull the trigger. Just completely unable. We're talking trigger constipation here: lots of straining and squeezing and grunts of effort, but nothing budging.

Did I mention that mom has been carrying this as her self-defense pistol? Lesson #2 (pun not intended): If you're going to carry it for self-defense, make sure you shoot it before you start carrying it.

I was able to pull the trigger, however. Recoil was... well, recoil was categorically NOT "brisk but manageable". Recoil was more like "Getting hit repeatedly in the webbing between thumb and forefinger by a police baton with only slightly less force needed to create a bruise."

In other words, GODDAMN THAT HURTS.

Before you ask: No, I don't know the grain weight of what I shot. The bullets are back in mom's room and she's taking a nap right now. They're whatever standard grain that round nose FMJ .380 cartridges have. Doesn't matter, because FUCKING OUCH.

No, seriously. I have shot larger bullets (150gr) out of .38 revolvers that hurt less than this little .380 did, and that's with a semi-auto action to absorb some of the recoil. I after the first magazine I had to put on a driving glove just so I could have some padding between the pistol and my poor hand.

In short, I would not recommend the S&W Bodyguard 380 as a self-defense pistol for little old ladies. I wouldn't recommend it for young ladies either, unless they have extraordinarily tough hands.

That said, I did pretty okay with it at seven yards:

That's about 24 rounds, or 6 magazines' worth. Yes, I know I am all over the damn place. Part of that is due to OMG TRIGGERPULL. The other part of it -- and yes, I realize this sounds like I am making excuses for bad technique -- is that it honestly seemed like the sights did not line up with the Point of Impact. I mean, when I have the pistol straight out in front of me and bullets are hitting several inches to the right of my point of aim, something just feels off, you know?  I will admit that I probably don't have the best technique, but the dang gun just felt wonky.

Now let's compare that with the PMR-30.  As I've said before, mom has arthritis in her hands -- one reason she couldn't pull the trigger on the Bodyguard -- but when she picked up the PMR, she had zero difficulty shooting it.

No trouble. At all. And she shot the entire 30-round magazine, which is unusual because normally she needs to take a break in order to let her hands rest and regain their strength.

Again:  She shot the entire magazine without trouble, without flinching, and with no mechanical difficulties other than forgetting to disengage the thumb safety.

This is how she did, using 40gr CCI Maxi-Mag at 7 yards:

I'd like to point out once again that the keyholing problem seems to have disappeared. I am going to attribute that to "breaking in" the barrel.

Her thoughts:

  • The trigger is very easy and comfortable to use. 
  • Lack of recoil means she doesn't dread pulling the trigger (this means she doesn't flinch when shooting, and therefore her aim is better).
  • She likes how light it is. 
  • She likes the bright fiber-optic sights, although there was some problem with the rear orange sights fading into the orange of the high-visibility target.
  • She likes that is looks more like a "proper" gun, and is therefore "more intimidating". 
  • She likes the "nearly bottomless" magazine. 
  • She LOVES that it's ambidextrous. 

To put it another way:  After we got home, mom took the Bodyguard out of her bag and replaced it with the PMR. Then she handed me her credit card and said "Buy it from Kel-Tec."  So I did.

I honestly can't think of any praise higher than "This is the gun I would give my mother to use for self-defense."

About the worst thing I can think to say about the PMR-30 is that it's a pain to disassemble for cleaning.

Disclaimer: Kel-Tec sent me the PMR-30 to test and evaluate for 90 days. When we chose to buy it, we were able to do so at a reduced rate. Kel-Tec did not pay me to write these reviews, nor did they give me anything in return for them. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Operation: Tamalanche

If you're a gunnie or a regular reader of this blog, you are aware that someone I know and admire has been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and that we in the gun-blog-o-sphere have rallied around her in a flurry of fundraising that I like to call Operation: Tamalanche.

Can the rest of you start calling it that, too? I think that name has a nifty ring to it.

Anyway, despite the fact that all the awesome raffles have been getting the lion's share of the attention, I've already heard from six folks who want to contribute to the Care Package. I'm not sure if I should start naming names -- some folks may want to remain safely anonymous (if you want to be publicly recognized, let me know in comments or email) -- but this means that our goodie bag has already tripled in volume.

Since plenty of folks have been emailing me with questions like "What can I contribute?" and "Where should I send it?" and "Which great opponent of Cartesian dualism resists the reduction of psychological phenomena to a physical state and insists there is no point of contact between the extended and the unextended?", I figured I would just make a blog post about it rather than keep answering all these questions over email.

1) The goal of this package is to raise her morale and make her smile. Therefore, I suggest you donate one of the following:

  • Something savory. I'm told that Tam likes meat and things which are salty. If you go this route, make sure it ships well and isn't going to go bad in a few days. 
  • Something silly. A toy, a stuffed animal, something that references a joke you two may have shared. It doesn't need to have any practical value -- if it makes her laugh or smile, then mission accomplished. 
  • Something fun.  Tam loves books, so get her something from her Amazon wishlist. Alternately, pick up a trashy adventure novel in the Mack Bolan vein; I'm pretty sure they're more her thing than a Harlequin Romance. (Although truth be told, I am sorely tempted to buy her a trashy novel about a time-travelling viking who becomes a Navy SEAL, just for the sheer WTF-ness. If you do something like this, you've just got to let me know!)
  • If you've got no clue, then email Brigid or Roberta X asking for ideas. I'm sure they can think of something. 

2)  The_Jack is going to be our Point of Contact, since he lives in the same city as Tam. He has requested that his physical address not be posted across the internet, but if you email me (erin DOT palette AT gmail DOT com) requesting it, I'll get it to you within a day. 

3) Henri Bergson.

And if you do end up contributing to this care package,  it will increase your chances of winning the handgonne auction that is being run by The_Jack. Everyone wants a 50 caliber firearm with no moving parts, don't they?

Friday, November 9, 2012

NCsoft's stocks nosedive like lemmings off a cliff

Oh, look, their stocks are auguring into the ground:

At this rate, how long before they've lost so much they will need to start selling off IP in order to staunch the hemorrhaging? Or the stockholders call for a vote of No Confidence in the CEO?

Oh NCsoft, it couldn't have happened to a nicer company.

... you find someone to carry you.

So as it turns out, Tamara -- the Goddess of Snark and, as far as I'm concerned, the Grand Aunt of the gunnie world -- has basal cell carcinoma.  To say that this has put a damper on her spirits is a bit of an understatement.

Now, I am personally of the opinion that picking a fight with Tamara Keel is somewhere between "Getting involed in a land war in Asia" and "Going against a Sicilian when death is on the line," i.e. cancer is going to have its ass handed to it so thoroughly it will never be able to sit again, but she is still somewhat rattled by all this.

Some other bloggers have suggested you go to Tam's blog and donate a few bucks to help with the surgery. I think that's a great plan, and if you decide to do that you're an awesome person. In fact, I plan to donate some myself.

As it turns out, some other awesome folks are sweetening the deal:  if you donate to Tam, send a screenshot of your receipt (or forward them the email) and for every $5 you donate you'll get a raffle ticket in drawings for cool stuff:  two gorgeous holsters and two sets of pistol grips. I don't think there's anything unethical about donating, and then entering in both raffles.

However --  I have a slightly less orthodox plan in motion.

As recently as last night, I was conspiring with Brigid and The_Jack to create a Care Package for Tam. The exact details of what we are including are Top Secret (because we are doing something silly for the lulz, you see), but that doesn't mean people can't get in on this as well.

If you are interested in contributing to a morale-boosting care package, email me (erin DOT palette AT gmail DOT com) and I will give you the details of the how and the where and the what.

Tam can't crawl right now. Let's help carry her for a bit.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pellatarrum: Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls

A guest post by Jon "Kaptain Von" Garrad

And the people -ah, the people -
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone -
They are neither man nor woman -
They are neither brute nor human -
They are Ghouls...

-- Edgar Allen Poe, 'The Bells'

Unlike true undead, a ghoul is not a walking, mindless extension of the Negative Material Plane, nor does it have the luxury of being animated by an elemental force that lends it some sense of rationale or rhyme or reason. The ghoul is a petty tragedy, borne of desperation; it would warrant pity, were it not morbidity that walks on two legs. To face a ghoul in combat is to put its out of its misery -- but it will not go willingly, for it has so often been driven to its existence out of an absolute longing to defy death.

A ghoul is born when, out of desperate need, a member of a servitor or half race [1] descends to the depths of eating the dead flesh of a humanoid race (their own race or another) and fails to rise again. Once is not enough -- a brief foray into cannibalism is unwholesome but not a damning failure. Repeating that foray again and again, though, causes a change to begin. Negative energy begins to saturate their degenerate bodies; if wounded, they do not heal true. The flesh of their extremities begins to suppurate and leak 'ghoul sweat', the noxious pus that lends them their crippling touch. Teeth and nails become thicker and stronger, all the better for rending tough, preserved flesh and cracking old bones. Worse, the mind begins to crumble; the hunger that drove the developing ghoul to commit its vile acts grows stronger and stronger. No matter how much they eat, their wounds do not heal and the growling of their insides is never silenced. No other food even comes close to sustaining them, even if any is offered or available. Eventually, the ghoul's system becomes so clogged with stifling negativity and indigestible flesh that they have, to all intents and purposes, eaten themselves to death.

The resulting undead creatures are grotesque, deformed humanoids that slink and snarl in graveyards, on the fringes of battlefields, in pestilence-ridden ghettos and in the wake of travelling caravans. Hunched and withered, they're as likely to crawl on four legs as walk on two, and almost all have missing chunks of flesh, appendages absent without leave, or broken, never-healed limbs. Their poor condition and inability to take entirely proper care of themselves makes them short-lived; the lucky and the clever and the careful among them can endure for up to a decade, but most last less than half as long.

Often, adventurers stumble on the lone survivor of some failed expedition, squatting among their former colleagues with a ragged chunk of thigh pressed to their rotting lips, and in disgust they put the creature out of its misery, thinking it to be the monster that attacked, overcame and devoured the expedition.

Those ghouls who degenerate together are more fortunate, in a way. For one, only another ghoul quite understands a ghoul's experiences. For two, the company of others helps them maintain some sense of sentience. They are still driven quite, quite mad by the negative energy poisoning every part of them, but if a whole community has taken this last, desperate step together, there is no-one left to cast the ghouls out and let loneliness finish the job. Instead, they watch each other's backs, lead each other to sources of food, patch up each other's injuries as best they can with their clumsy, crumbling, soggy fingers, and most importantly of all, they act as constant reminders of one another's past lives.

Ghoul packs have a sort of collective memory -- the more ghouls there are in a particular place, the more reminders there are of their old life, and consequently the more skills and knowledge from that life they maintain. In places where long sieges, years of famine, or particularly vile diseases have driven entire cities to take their first step down the path that ends in ghouldom, those cities are still standing, repaired in a slipshod kind of way by their new inhabitants, who raid and trade nearby settlements for what they cannot build themselves -- and for corpses as well.

The prospect of a city’s population descending into ghoulery makes siege by starvation a rare thing in Pellatarrum. Condemned by the Church of Light, it tends to make the city somewhat less than desirable. It’s all very well conquering a territory, but if that territory is a decrepit hellhole infested by poison-fingered cannibals, who’d want it?

More common than the siege is the creeping descent of a city that starves by degrees. Perhaps there is a run of bad harvests, or a pestilence among the livestock, or both in succession. Perhaps there is a flood, and the city is cut off for a season or two. Sooner or later, someone gets desperate, and the idea spreads as surviving by any other means becomes less and less likely. To these instances the Church of Light responds with world-scouring fury, and the cities seldom stand for long once the required forces have been amassed.

While whole cities of ghouls are mercifully rare, there are ghoul colonies in many cities that remain otherwise vibrant. The dispossessed often gravitate to graveyards, turning to a diet of carcasses to supplement or stand in for theft or begging, and fail to turn away again. The ghouls in these colonies are used to watching over one another; they post watchers and arrange bolt-holes, first out of conscious choice and later, as they degenerate, out of unconscious habit. They are excellent at avoiding detection, know their territories inside-out, have hunters’ instincts for skirmish tactics, and are in short very difficult to dislodge once they've settled in. Many cities turn to professional hunter-killer types to winnow their ghoul colonies, and it tends to be these colonies that are encountered by urban adventurers.

Similar colonies sometimes exist in dungeons -- the remnants of adventuring parties who have become cut off from supplied and forced to subsist off their kills. These ghouls are fewer in number, but are alarmingly competent -- the harsh environments in which they dwell force them to retain a great deal of their old know-how and capability, and they were often dangerous individuals even before the change took them. [2]

What a ghoul does out of necessity, a ghast does out of choice. A cannibal of the lower or servitor races who embraces their hunger wilfully, rather than resorting to it out of desperation, accelerates their degeneration and becomes something far more than just another rot-fingered corpse-muncher. Owing to the sheer amount of negative energy that pools clammily in them, ghasts have a far more dangerous touch that paralyses victims for longer; they emit a dreadful stench as their flesh begins to slough off them; and they carry with them the corrosive power of the Negative Plane.

Where a ghast walks, decay follows; prolonged exposure to the ghast brings a creeping decomposition [3]. Vegetation rots, metal rusts, structures fall apart -- and those ghoul packs with a ghast or two among their number become feral, bold and dangerous, their shared memories and physical forms eroded by the presence of the ghast. They are short-lived, decomposing rapidly, but their brief lives are spent rampaging with ravenous hunger, overrunning small or vulnerable settlements and crashing upon the walls of larger ones. [4]

Fortunately, both mind and memory decay much faster than in the reluctant and resistant ghouls, and so ghasts are short-lived. Their carcasses could well last for up to a year, but they are almost always slain beforehand; after all, their very presence draws attention to them, and they tend to revel in spreading their influence.

Notwithstanding the occasional lunatic (who embraces their state gleefully) or the accidental cannibal who devours too much, too fast, most ghasts are made rather than born. Necromancers frequently encourage their most fanatical devotees into cannibalism in order to transform them into ghasts, acquiring not just a powerful shock trooper, but a walking embodiment of corrosive principles. A ghast’s effects on their surroundings make them poor defenders, but they can be let loose among a necromancer’s enemies singly, as a distraction or a force of terror -- and if said cultist should decide to unleash a protracted campaign against some enemy, a whole pack of ghasts could be created, and their noxious energies expended en masse.

Further Reading
  • For more information on undead, go here
  • For information on how the Church of the Light deals with undead, go here
  • For information on the Cult of the Dark, go here

[1] For some reason -- whether it be hard-coded into the reality of Pellatarrum, or their stronger elemental connections -- the elder races are not susceptible to becoming ghouls. This does not make them immune to the attacks of ghouls, however.

[2] In this case, give these ghouls class levels as appropriate. Alternately, this unofficial template may be applied.

[3] These effects are not fast enough to be effective in combat. Should it become necessary to adjudicate the entropic effects of ghast decay upon an object, a good rule of thumb is have the item’s Hardness be reduced by the ghast’s Hit Dice per day of exposure. Once Hardness is reduced to zero, damage is applied to any remaining Hit Points. 

[4] Treat this effect as the Bard Inspire Courage feat, with the ghast’s CR rating used in place of Bard levels and the ghast’s stench as the “performance.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Return to Broken River

Broken River:
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis

This series of articles was begun almost a year ago when I was making half as much (and had almost three times the spare time). With the persistence of Pinkie Pie, Erin has asked when the next release is coming out. I know I promised a look at religious matters, but the truth is those haven't gelled enough. So -

Foreign Diplomats in Broken River: Halflings
As noted earlier, halflings own substantial agricultural lands to the west of Broken River. Their main exports are foodstuffs and textiles (especially children's clothes); their main imports are salt (and other spices), metal goods, and artwork.

The  “Diplomat Bakery and Brewery” (Managed by the Stubb family) is an eatery that serves luxury food. It also creates upper-end confections (cakes, eclairs, and other complex dishes) as well as a selection of fine ales ales. For simple things, like pretzels, bulk cookies, and beer, they just order from nearby human businesses. When the halflings want to discuss something with their human neighbors, the mayor gets a “free meal” coupon.

The Diplomat is located in the west (rich) side of town, just two blocks inside the west road gate. It is almost obnoxiously close to the guardhouse serving the gate, and offers special rates for guards just before and just after their shifts. The Stubb daughters (with guards in tow, later) sometimes take “surplus” food to the guards on duty at the gate or to the guardhouse proper. Although the Diplomat doesn't make deliveries to the “noble” households, servants of said households will often be seen making journeys to the Diplomat, and returning with food. (The Diplomat sells finished foods; those households that make their own foodstuffs get the ingredients from the normal farmer's market.)

There is no official “diplomat” in the sense that humans think about it. Either of the Stubbs parents or their eldest three children (depending upon which of them the issue was brought to) will just happen to mention an issue to their guest, and if they may be so bold, suggest how to resolve the little problem.

Incidentally:  Don't attempt to force yourself on the Stubb daughters. When the town watch started looking for the last offender, it took two weeks to finish finding bits of him. None of the pieces had any evidence indicating the Diplomat or the Stubbs. (But, as we already know, the better divination magics are just not available in Broken River.)

The Peddlers
There is a courtyard in front of the Diplomat. Usually, it's noodle vendors or a single merchant trying to sell elven silk or some other luxury. But every so often (and usually for only a few days a month), something special comes though: one of the town's few magic items, for example, or a map showing the location of a lost treasure.

Everybody wins: The town gets a few silver pieces a day, and gets to keep the “ritzy and snobbish” out of the farmer's market; the merchants get to go to an area where townsfolk will expect their upscale wares; and The Diplomat gets to remain the town's most exotic locale.

If you want a masterwork or exotic weapon, this is the place to look. A rare book, potions or scrolls? Sure, you could get those things at the Sow's Ear. But if you want to be certain that it's legal, you want to get it from here.

(Note: Conversely, this is absolutely not the place to barter poisons and the like.)

The Stubb Family
Oliver Stubb (Commoner 2): The patriarch of the Stubb family, and legally the owner of the Diplomat, Oliver keeps himself busy tending tables and telling tall tales. He would certainly never compete with his daughter behind the bar, although he's not above refilling a mug or glass. He's just happy making sure others are happy, and doesn't bother actually taking charge of the place. Every business needs a social front man, and for the Diplomat, it's Oliver.

Myranthakal (Mira) Stubb (Witch [Wisdom] 2): The actual decision maker of the Diplomat, although she caters to her husband's needs. The business keeps her busy enough that she rarely tends to her cat, Squirrel Shadow (who is quite happy curling up on anyone's lap and demanding snuggles). She doesn't advertise being an arcane caster, but is almost always willing to buy or sell scrolls.

Laura Stubb (Commoner 1): Many mistake Laura for a beginning bard, because of her flair behind the bar (Perform [bartender] skill) and willingness to discuss anything at length. She always claims to be romantically attracted only to “her man”, who is unavailable to her, but is more than willing to conspire with others in matters of the heart.

Arthur Stubb (Com 1): Many think that because Mira is never seen that she slaves away in the kitchen all day. This couldn't be farther from the truth. The kitchen “slave” is Arthur, the family chef. Arthur puts in twelve to sixteen hours a day baking and cooking, and he loves it.

Cora Stubb (Adept 1): The family “bard”, specializing in illusions, and apple of her mother's eye, Cora proudly shows off her magical talents. She refrains from participating in the contests at the Diplomat (see below) so that she can serve as a judge. She has been actively trying to get a theater started in the town since she was twelve, and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

The Staff
As one would expect, the staff of the Diplomat work around the clock. They are made up mostly of commoners. This doesn't mean that they shouldn't be as detailed and “real” as the Stubb family, merely that they do so without the benefit of special classes.

Mr. Jasper (Com 2): Whenever one of the family isn't awake, Mr. Jasper is.  Mr. Jasper is part bartender, part manager, part chef, and all Diplomat. He may not have been born inside the Diplomat, but he fully intends to work here until the day he dies.

The Brothers Guthrie (Com 1): Clad in leather armor and carrying sword and shield, these “warriors” serve as bouncers at the Diplomat, and both will be escorting any Stubb daughter outside the Diplomat's walls. Either of them will brag about how they earn more than the town guard, and get better meals as well.

Plot Threads to Draw PCs to the Diplomat

  • Alchemist: Need that one rare plant? The salt works isn't likely to have it – at least not at a reasonable price. Maybe someone at the Diplomat has one? And maybe they need that slightly sticky mess you made when you failed to make that Tanglefoot bag? One can hope, of course...
  • Bard: The Diplomat hosts monthly storytelling contests and seasonal music contests. The Diplomat also has a reputation for being where you can find those oddities, like a +1 dagger of rabbit slaying, or a self-heating mug. Travelers from all walks of life bring their stories here.
  • Barbarian: Other bars are better for rowdy or uncouth behavior, but if you want to get free drinks in exchange for your latest battle story (without the risk of having to prove it with a duel with the orcs), this is the place to bring your bragging.
  • Cavalier: If you want to enjoy the finer things in life without spending too much time with one local noble family or another, this is the place to remain out of town politics. If you are involved with local family politics, this is one of the places to show the family banner.
  • Cleric: Want to engage in a debate on ethics (or anything else)? Ask if anyone else has seen that weird holy symbol you found in those ruins? Or just celebrate with that Imperial dish that nobody else can make properly out here on the fringes of society? Besides, where else are you going to experience so much of life?
  • Druid: It's no surprise that the agricultural halflings have a working druid circle. Haven't earned your way into the hearts of the outriders (halfling border guard) yet? This is the place to make contact with other druids, some of whom may be seeking training in the halfling farmlands.
  • Fighter: Other bars may be more militant, but this one is friendly. And safe. And it feels like home. Want a break from the razor's edge of danger the Sow's Ear presents? Rooms here aren't cheap, but they are safe, clean, and cozy. 
  • Inquisitor: The bars of Broken River are full of information. If you want rumors from outside the township, this is the place for it. Besides, there is no place where life is celebrated like at the Diplomat. After a long day or night staring into the abyss of darkness, a short break here can restore your faith in the Light.
  • Monk: Just because YOU live a life of ascetic simplicity doesn't mean you want those around you to be miserable with the simple comforts you enjoy. The Diplomat offers an enjoyable experience for you and your friends. Besides, where else can you find people willing to talk about the differences between different types of tea or the fine details of gardening?
  • Oracle: Want to hang out in a crowd where people don't seem to care that you're different? The atmosphere of the Diplomat may be just what you need. Besides, exposure to all of the exotic travelers may spark an “interesting” vision that you need to have.
  • Paladin: Need a break from people begging you to lay hands on them? Just ten minutes without being asked to climb a tree and rescue a cat? Somewhere that crinkle-faced old lady won't ask why you do something about those beggars? When you need to take in some solace instead of handing it out, the Diplomat is the place to gather it.
  • Ranger: Want to brush up on what beasties are where? Travelers along all roads (as well as some river traffic) end up here. Also, if you want to meet up with a caravan and hire on as a guard, this is the best place in town.
  • Rogue: Want to trade trap bits? Quietly buy a set of dental tools that just happen to include picks that just happen to be good for lockwork? Show off your skills of legerdemain as a magic show? This is the place for you. However, the staff frowns on con games (including “unfair” gambling) and has no tolerance for outright thievery. None. (Ask your GM whether that means you're turned right over to the watch or whether you get to join the other handless beggars down by the docks.)
  • Sorcerer: Is it just the WRONG season for you? The Diplomat has underground rooms, safe from exposure to those elements that might drain your magical reserves. And, if you just don't want to hang out with The Four (the town's sorcerers; more on them in another article), this is the place to hang out, whether to avoid people asking why your hair is always on fire or to avoid people asking why your hair ISN'T always on fire.
  • Summoner: Does your eidolon have a taste for apple butter? Need to get the straps on your exotic saddle fixed? Where will you find a smith willing to make those metal claw-covers they need? Well, the Diplomat is a good place to start.
  • Witch: The Diplomat is pet friendly (as long as your pet isn't a squirrel with an aversion to black cats), and probably has all kinds of exotic things available. The Diplomat is welcome to all, and Mira is always willing to discuss arcane matters.
  • Wizard: Tired of those old men hiding enigmatically in the corners? Hah! The corners are all well lit here. Besides, where else are you going to be able to discuss ALL of your knowledge skills in one night?

Plot Threads For the Diplomat Staff

  • Many other inns would love to have Arthur's recipe book. Or to dig up dirt on his life that would give them the ability to blackmail him into working for them. For his part, Arthur isn't above hiring adventurers into getting rare spices, meats, plants, etc. that just aren't available from “home” or the farmer's market.
  • Who is Laura's “man”? Is it one of the halfling merchants? Some farmer bumpkin who ignores her subtle hints? Is she secretly of the Dark, because they offer her the option of celibacy? Laura is a starting point for several romantic adventures and misadventures that can occur in Broken River.
  • Mira Stubb just doesn't have time to locate all the potential covens, search all the ruins, or any of the other things she feels compelled to do by her magics. Fortunately, she has access to a small cash flow, at least enough to hire some adventurers...

Relations With Others

  • As noted, the Diplomat has good relations with all the 'local' nobles, and with the local guardhouse. They are also liked by the Church of Light; if only they would allow sex in the common room instead of discrete back alcoves... 
  • The Cult of the Dark also likes the Diplomat – where else can you exchange parcels and words across social classes without risk of raising an eyebrow? In particular, Scott Trask (not known to be a member) likes meeting with his brothers Antoine and Harker in places with multiple witnesses.
  • The wood elves like the bustling chaos of the Diplomat, which means the sea elves refuse to dine there. Copperbeard Jaegra (of the Dwarven Trade Consulate) doesn't really enjoy the festive mood, although her staff (the gnomes) are sometimes found here.
  • Orcs don't particularly like the atmosphere, but they appreciate the artistry of which the chef is capable. It isn't uncommon for a challenge to be delivered in a form similar to Iron Chef (“We desire a four-course meal made for a family of six. All dishes must include – SHRIMP!”). For his part, Arthur looks forward to these challenges.
  • If either of the dragons has interests other than keeping their non-kobold agents welcome here, nobody knows it. For the same reasons the PCs might want to hang out here, it is almost guaranteed each dragon is at least keeping tabs on happenings at the Diplomat.
  • The alchemists pinch their pennies – the Diplomat is more expensive than they like.
  • Although the Diplomat caters to the rich, it has a love/hate relationship with the poor. Poor folks like complaining about the excesses of the Diplomat, which won't keep the family from dressing up for holidays and having a “fine meal”. The poor in need tend to go bother Harker Trask or other eating establishments rather than wait here for surplus food.

This was supposed to be an article on all of the diplomats of Broken River. Gladly, the
Diplomat emerged as an article in its own right. I look forward to the other embassies also having their own articles. [Me too! -- Erin.]

The Fine Print

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