The Fantastic Worlds of Grenadier

I have never backed a game-related Kickstarter campaign — I simply couldn’t afford to at times, and I also grew very cynical about how they’re used by amateurs and conmen.  But there is one that I am backing: Terence Gunn’s Kickstarter to publish a revised and expanded version of his book on Grenadier Models. I was never able to track down a print copy of the first edition, and was not interested in an ebook, so I’m really happy to see this KS launch. Technically this seems more like a pre-order system for a self-publisher, as he’s already done the writing and layout, or is pretty close to being done, from the activity I’ve seen on the Collecting Grenadier Models Yahoo group. If you look at the tag cloud over the right-hand sidebar, you’ll notice Grenadier is one of the most common topics of my posts. For years they were my favorite miniatures company. Such a shame they couldn’t bounce back from the lead scare of the 1990s.

In addition to photos of most if not all of the miniatures Grenadier Models produced, Mr. Gunn interviewed the people who founded and worked at the company, so this looks like it will be the reference for Grenadier Models.



Published in: on July 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm  Comments (1)  

2016 One page dungeon contest winners announced!

And I’m literally one of them!

Well, literally in the popular usage that means not literally at all but almost, maybe metaphorically.

What I’m saying is that I am not winner winner, but I did place in the “Penultimate Winners Circle,” and that’s pretty damn flattering, considering the caliber of the other entries.

Congratulations to the real winners, and to the penultimate winners, and a big thank you to everyone who entered and provided more free resources for game masters everywhere.

My entry, Bridge of Dread, is downloadable at the OPD site (“Submission archive”) and directly from my site here.

Published in: on June 5, 2016 at 9:51 am  Comments (2)  


So, CRPGs. I guess I really missed the boat on these. Way back in the day I vaguely recall seeing a D&Dish game on a friend’s TRS80, and year or two later my brother & I got a Commodore 64, which meant Telengard (an effectively unbeatable game with no real ‘end’), various text-based games like Zork (I think we only ever beat Zork I), and then Ultima III,which is really the standard against which I’d always measure CRPGs. I’d have to admit that the Bard’s Tale was a little better, but Ultima IV and V were the best. From what I recall though we never actually beat IV (we had a pirated copy which lacked a whole town of clues, and a critical PC), or V (either the C64 broke down or we found better uses for the time, I guess). Somewhere in between we tried out Temple of Apshai (not great), several others I can’t remember the names of, and my favorite, Phantasie III which let you assemble a party of humanoids, if you wanted. My brother was a little more into CRPGs, probably because we rarely had a decent DM other than him for real RPGs and they were his only outlet for playing until college. So he played the early AD&D games (Pool of Radiance, and others) as well as the CRPG version of Der Schwarze Auge. In college I played only tabletop games, but by grad school I needed a computer, and might have tried CRPGs except that Doom and Doom II happened. My only dalliance with CRPGs after that was Nahlakh, which was a throwback to the Ultimas and a great deal of fun, but somehow I never finished that one either. I think there might have been a bug in the game — it was shareware in an era where if you wanted to get a manual you had to send the programmer a check, which I eventually did, but I never made it any further. I also tried a few games that were pretty similar to old Commodore games but with better graphics — Dungeonmaster (which was pretty boring), Might & Magic : Darkside of Xeen, and first person dungeon crawl that was explicitly based on AD&D but I forget the title. After that, my only forays into CRPGs were Diablo and Diablo 2, which were basically graphics-intensive throwbacks, but the network games were pretty fun. Oh, and Dungeon Robber, which has some clever ideas but is an endless loot & scoot time sink.

Handy summary chart follows. First comment to explain the title of this post wins buku brownies points.

CRPG Pros Cons
Telengard Simple gameplay, funny narration, tons of randomness to tricks and monsters Repetitive with no endgame, so you need to create your own metagames (how deep can I get without resting, how much treasure can get in 15 minutes, etc.)
Ultima III Interesting quest with lots to explore and lots of choices for making up a party; ability to ‘go rogue’ and loot towns Many of the character choices are underpowered and you’re better off with a stereotypical party
Phantasie III 15 playable races, and fairly cool turn-based combat system Silly pun names (J.R. Trollkin)
Nahlakh Still available!; lots of races and classes; skills increase with use; dozens of weapons Possibly fatal bug involving a tomb
Autoduel It’s frikkin’ Car Wars! And set in the part of the country I grew up in! There are missions but the endgame was kind of underwhelming
The Bard’s Tale (1, 2, maybe 3?) Challenging, unique setting in the first game (a city overrun with monsters), includes half-orcs None that I can think of
Might & Magic: Darkside of Xeen Relatively short Basically a Bard’s Tale rip-off



Published in: on May 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm  Comments (6)  

Good news!

Congress has been so effective at getting things done and solving problems that they can focus on telling librarians how to do their jobs!

So when the Library of Congress Policy & Standards Division decided that “Illegal aliens” was not a useful and objective term for use in subject headings (with good reason), Repugnant congressmen raced to compose a bill that would undo their deliberations. For some reason every other PSD decision made that week was fine, but this one change demands action from our normally sessile representatives.

What next, a Senate hearing to investigate subversive call numbers? (“Why is Islam listed before Christianity? Why is the Bible filed under BS?“) A Supreme Court ruling on permissible story time books? Maybe we need a congressional oversight of reference librarians to make sure every question is screened by the Heritage Foundation.

FFS, man.

Published in: on April 13, 2016 at 3:28 pm  Comments (8)  
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Vor Da-Da war, da war Da-Da

A cautionary tale. Ish.

So back in grad school, some 20 years ago, another student shared his amusement with the German phrase “Vor Da-Da war, da war Da-Da,” which we translated as “Before there was Da-Da, there was Da-Da.” It just sounds funny, but it is also probably true. He could not remember where he’d heard it first and I forgot all about it, until for whatever reason I recalled it. So I decided to try Googling the phrase. That was not something you could do back when I first wondered about where it came from. So my Googling turned up exactly one hit, which led to a question I’d sent to a listserv 20 years ago (asking participants of a list discussing a German philosopher not associated with Da-Da if they might have heard the phrase). It was easy to navigate from there to the larger archive of listervs, and see all the posts ever made to it. I wasn’t the most active participant of the list during my stint, but it was a little bit like reading letters from old friends.

It was a listserv that changed hands a few times and technically seems to still be “active” in the sense that you can try to join it, but in reality all that it shows for the past dozen years are monthly announcements from some other mailing list. Reviewing older stuff, though, it was pretty interesting to see what other topics I’d asked about, and what I’d answered to other people’s questions, and in general what online conversations between strangers looked like back then. In fact even the most “heated” exchanges are pretty tame by today’s standards.

So the cautionary part of this tale is that the stuff I posted to that listserv was mostly harmless and mostly not embarrassing, and I’m glad about that because at the time, it was a private listserv that you had to join to see the archives, but by the magic of intertoobing you can actually find all the posts everyone made back then. Back before keyword searching of everything digital was an option, back before people had surrendered all expectation of privacy online, back before your words posted to an obscure academic discussion list might come back to haunt you, the posts were made somewhat innocently. I guess there is no way to be sure how long such things will continue to exist “out there” on servers, but it is a good reminder that any time you write something online, you are writing in permanent ink.

Apropos nothing, “Da-da” is also a pretty great Alice Cooper album, one of the ones he now has no memory of writing or performing because of his struggles with addiction in the early 1980s.

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just saying

I’m not one of those people who resist new words or usages just because they are new. I like neologisms. But there is one I’ve started hearing over and over lately that is absolute shit. “Impactful.” There are already dozens of ways of saying something has an impact. Many of them are a single word, so don’t say “impactful” is more concise the than the synonymous phrases it is presumably replacing (“has a great impact,” “is deeply affecting,” etc.). What’s wrong with “impressive,” “stunning,” “influential,” or “stimulating?” These all seem to be what people mean when they say “impactful,” in various contexts. Is it really helpful to have one portmanteau word that covers all those connotations?

If the idea of coining “impactful” was to reduce excessive verbiage of “has a great impact,” or “is powerful,” here’s another synonym with one fewer syllable: “forceful.” You’re welcome.

“Impactful” usually seems to be applied to an emotional or psychological impact, but there is something to be said for clarity. Is a meteorite impactful? If not, did you really mean to use the word “impact” in it?

Also, “impactful” generally brings to mind “impacted colon” or “impaction”: “Your low-fiber diet is impactful.”

Note that this rant is not specifically against the kids on my lawn, because I have heard this word being used by people of my generation and older. Although a few online dictionaries are recognizing this impacted neologism, it has not yet made it into the OED, so maybe there is still time to shame people into dropping this ugly coinage, or at least redefine it.

Impactful : (adj.) causing impaction. “The Adkins diet is really impactful.” Etymology: coined by bad business writers as a term to suggest “effectiveness” (“My impactful projects include…” and made popular by journalists with inferior judgment. Occasionally used as a lazier, buzzier form of “forceful” or “having impact.”

Published in: on March 21, 2016 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  

Hmm, Things that make you go

So this book crossed my desk at work yesterday and joins the legions of books about the “Paleo” diet. Now there are many, many things to mock about the “Paleo” diet idea (in short, eat like people did before the invention of agriculture) and especially a lot to mock about the dumbed down version that tries to equate paleo with the Atkins death diet, but the hilarious thing about this book to me is that it tries to cash in on two fads at once — the juicing/smoothie fad and the Paleodiet fad. Because in the stone age, we all had masticating blenders in our caves, right? And made smoothies from the kinds of stuff on the cover here: collards, broccoli,  kale … you know … highly cultured variations of plants that only exist because agriculture. Yeesh. That said, vegetable smoothies are really healthy, so my mockery is tempered by that. It’s just a hell of a lot of trouble to go, and a little sad that people need all this fussing around to get them to eat their damn veggies.

Published in: on March 12, 2016 at 7:55 am  Comments (5)  

One page dungeon 2016

I very rarely get a jump on the One Page Dungeon contest and finish an entry more than a couple of days before the deadline, but this year I have so many other things I ought to be focusing on that I found a nice relief taking a few hours over the weekend to pull an entry together. I am, as my previous OPDs demonstrate, pretty bad at drawing decent maps, so this year I found a public domain image to annotate. Writing it up went surprisingly fast. I am not expecting to win anything with this one, since the level of competition has really gotten steep in the OPD contest (maybe it’s time to introduce a master’s class or something so people who’ve won in the past aren’t competing with newbies?). Still, I enjoy the challenge of creating a usable adventure that fits on one page, and I think my “dungeon” is  something that hasn’t been done before. So apart from the execution, I think I have pretty good entry.🙂

The principal inspirations for the design are two things: one, the concept of the “Bridge of dread” mentioned in Lyke Wake Dirge, and two, the surprisingly developed and fortified bridges of the middle ages (old London Bridge, a sketch of which I used for my “map,” being an extreme example). Bridges had defenses like gate houses and towers, and being high-traffic spots attracted peddlers and shopkeepers. Because upkeep for them was expensive and not provided by the crown, some collected tolls (or tribute or bribes, if occupied by bandits) and some even had attractions like shrines and chapels, the offerings gathered at them helping pay for upkeep as well. The folks who earned a living via bridge traffic, officials who were responsible for it, and merchants even built their homes on the bridges, creating miniature cities. It’s not such a wonder that old London Bridge eventually fell down.

Below is the original sketch (after a 1616 engraving by Claes Van Visscher) I used for my OPD, taken from a nineteenth century book scanned by the New York Public library for the Internet Archive.

bridge-ill-onlyI also cribbed an image from Wikimedia Commons, for a close up of one spot.

I’ll post the finished PDF in my files area once the contest is closed.


Bonus: viewing the text of this book at Project Gutenberg, I saw a transcription of the “advertisement” page for other books in the series, and one that jumped out at me was “Famous frosts and frost friars”. I was intrigued by the idea of a “Frost Friar” (which evokes Bellairs’ “The face in the frost”) but sadly it was just a typo, and the book is about frost FAIRS — festivals held when a river ices over.

Frost Friar

HD: 4; AC: leather; MV: 12” walking, 24” on ice; attacks: by weapon or special; SV: Cleric 4

Frost friars are evil spirits that emerge from the depths of the earth in or around winter. They look like mendicant friars, except that their skin is pallid white and their clothes are dusted with ice. They gather at rivers (the number appearing will depend on the river, generally d6 per 20’ breadth) and freeze it over, interrupting commerce and travel, and often inspiring the local populace to hold “frost fairs,” taking advantage of the unusual conditions. However their goal is to lure unsuspecting mortals onto thin ice, for those who die of exposure or drowning in icy waters become their slaves of the frost friars in the underworld. Frost friars can cast cold and ice-related spells (or reversed fire-related spells) as if they were 5th level magic users. They often hoard the valuables of their victims in caches buried in river banks.

Published in: on March 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sumpters and mounts: a little data

My big on-again-off-again project is getting a little closer to being finished, at least in terms of writing, but layout will take a while and is out of my hands. In the meantime I have been filling in some gaps, and pulling at some threads where I thought I was finished.

One area I was bothered about is nailing down some numbers for how much a pack animal (sumpter) can carry and how much a riding animal can carry (the live weight of a rider being somewhat less burdensome than the dead weight of a pack load) and how much a draft animal can pull in a wheeled cart or sled.

I figured there must be a formula, so I enlisted my brother, who is both an engineer and more knowledgeable about the size and strength of animals than probably anyone, for some help with this. He had already looked into horses, and found some great sources, but I thought I’d like to include more exotic animals that people have used for sumpters, draft animals, or mounts.

Das Reitschwein. Image presumably out of copyright. Source:

Well, maybe not EVERY animal…but certainly more than just the usual horses and mules. He found a study on agricultural uses of animals and the article included a table of the recommended pack-loads for various animals from (water) buffalo to yaks! Apart from wanting to have some details on the usual animals you find in medieval settings, I thought it might be useful to extrapolate the ratio of an animal’s mass to the load it can reasonably carry or pull.

The draft numbers are incredibly complicated because you really ought to figure in the type of conveyance and its weight, the wheels, the road, and so on — apparently teams of animals lose significant efficiency too. I will probably just have to give round numbers for “a wheeled cart, on a packed dirt road,” “a wheeled cart off road,” and a “a sled on snow,” and just fudge something where I assume the conveyance is around ½  of the weight of the load for carts and ¼ for sleds — so to convey 1000 pounds of stuff, you need a cart of 500 pounds or a sled of 250 pounds. Instead of putting that in the charts, I’ll just give estimates of how many animals of a given type is needed to pull a given load, and how many carts, wagons, or sled you need to have to do it, because my aim is just to have some information useful for planning long journeys in a medieval world. “I want to take three tons of goods from Paris to Rome. How many pack mules would I need, or how many oxen and carts?” The relative speed of each mode would also be a factor. But because one player in our group has repeatedly economized on mounts by riding an ox, and other PCs have been unusually large and unlikely to be able to ride a horse, it seemed worthwhile to figure out how heavy a rider each type of animal can bear.

Once I had a bunch of numbers, I started plugging them into a spreadsheet to see what patterns emerge. My brother had warned me that the ratio for horses would not apply across the board — generally speaking, the larger the animal, the lower the ratio of load:mass. But the animal’s build is also a factor, and camels, though bigger than horses in mass, carry a greater load both absolutely and proportionally.

Now my brother might be able to use calculus or some other dark art to come up with an accurate formula to cover how increasing mass lowers the ratio, but that is a convenient place for me to throw up my hands and say, well we have dragons in the game, let’s ignore that reality of physics too.

So, without further ado, I have a very crude ratio that works for various animal types. Bear in mind these are not the absolute maximums the animal can carry; they are the maximum safe loads for travel. For a short time you can certainly overload an animal with no long-term harm, but exceeding these loads on a journey will lame or even kill a sumpter or mount. Much more complete data, including rates of travel for various species and guidelines on average mass for them will be in the book. All loads are expressed as multiples of the animal’s mass. For example a rider load of .25 means the animal can carry a rider & gear of up to .25 x its mass (or ¼ or its mass)

Type of animal working load max load rider load
Horse, buffalo .12 .16 .2
Ox, elephant .16 .2 .25
Flightless bird .18 .25 .3
Canine .2 .4 .5?
Yaks, Yak hybrids .25 .3 .3
Camel, llama, reindeer .3 .4 .5

The reader will notice that horses don’t seem to be very strong, relatively speaking. They aren’t. But they combine the critical advantages of being obedient, large, and fast, making them very good choices for general use as well as mounts for warfare. (Camels are much less tractable; oxen and yaks are slow; canines and ostriches are too small to carry humans any significant distance; etc.) Some animals like oxen and yaks have shorter work-days than horses as well, needing more time to graze and/or ruminate.

Anyway these numbers should get you started. How much can a 1000 kg giant ram carry? I’d compare it to a buffalo, and say a rider of 200 kg, or a load of 160 kg. (In fact I do have some stats for goats and sheep — which are used in some mountainous areas like Nepal — but they are close to horse/buffalo range. My book will have the exact numbers too.)

The rider weight for the canines seems improbable to me, but pack dogs do carry a heck of a lot, relative to their weight. It might be more reasonable use .4 for riders on oversized dogs, wargs, etc., if you like.

*I couldn’t find any data for pigs, but a 250 kg hog is routinely ridden  by an elderly man in China, so I’m guessing a pig type animal can carry a rider of at least .2 its mass.

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 8:56 pm  Comments (4)  
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Badasses of the old west

Badasses of the old west : true stories of outlaws on the edge, edited by Erin Turner


Man, the title and cover really oversell this book. It’s actually a collection of short profiles of criminals of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  I’m not sure I’d have counted coastal Oregon in the 1920s as part of the “old west” but one of the longer entries chronicles an escaped convict who spent weeks on the lam there, forcing people to cook for him at gunpoint whenever he stopped at a house. Other criminals that are included don’t really seem to rise to the level “outlaw” status — a burglar who murdered a sleeping woman with a meat cleaver, a man who went on a drunken rampage robbing some railroad employees and shooting his brother-in-law, and several other cases of murder. There are a few bona fide famous outlaws mentioned — the James brothers, the Apache Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as infamous killers like John Wesley Hardin and William Quantrill. A few of the less well-known characters are pretty interesting too — Old Tom Starr and Dart Isom, for example. But all too many seem to have been selected for their evocative nicknames rather than their deeds: “Bad Eye” Santamarrazo’s crime was trying to poison a miner, and “Rattlesnake Dick” Barter murdered and dismembered an eccentric old man in order to take over his farm; in both cases these were the only crimes the subjects committed. Worse, a lot of them seem to be included simply because the writers found a lot of details about their trials and executions, which make for pretty uninteresting reading when the criminals were spectacularly inept. So it’s really a very mixed bag, some of it entertaining and some it boring.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly; maybe tales of men who were “badass” by some standard other than simply being killers. Really the vast majority of the people profiled sound like sociopaths and bullies. Most of the killings are ambushes or surprise attacks on unarmed men. I know that this is the reality of most crime generally and most of the killings in the Old West. I guess I was hoping they would be enough true stories where a gunslinger did something that actually was “badass” to fill a book. You know, stuff like this. Evidently not. I know, I know. Most of the people from history who we think of as “badasses” were actually sociopaths and bullies. The “most badass” warrior cultures — Vikings, Romans, Spartans, samurai, knights — were basically sociopaths and bullies who won more by surprise, material wealth, and ruthlessness than courage or toughness. That’s pretty much how human history works. Still, the Old Western idea of a tough individual dies hard, and maybe if we pretend the intent behind this collection was demythologization, it works. Except that the obviously amateur and amateurish articles don’t really address the question, and it’s more on the editor for pretending these are about badasses rather than a collection of crime stories.

I also wish the articles were signed, rather than just having a list of contributors on the copyright page, because the style and tone of the articles varies a lot. I get the impression that the publisher or editor just wanted to cash in on a great title and classic photo for the cover (a cowboy standing on the saddle of a horse and aiming straight for the camera with his gun), reprinting chapters from various “Outlaw tales of…” books in the publisher’s stable. If this is meant to be a “best of” collection, I’ll skip the books they’re excerpted from.

Published in: on February 27, 2016 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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