Planning ahead for classes and meetings

Today I did some calendar planning for February. I needed to get a couple of topics ahead on my advance planning for ethics classes. I chose to do brief planning write-ups for topics on “Sleep” and “What is Ethics?” for the younger kids, and “Sleep” (same material but framed for more mature kids) and “Confession” for the older kids. BY Confession I mean mostly just confessing to misdeeds or crimes, but I’ll also touch on the religious rite of Confession as a thing and ask some questions about that.

Planning ahead into late February, I also decided to skip a week or ethics classes to accommodate my next ISO Photography Standards meeting, which is on 19-22 February. It’s in Tokyo, but I’m not travelling to this one, and will participate in the whole meeting by Webex (a remote meeting app kinda like Zoom). It’s only two hours later than my own time zone, which is good for sleep cycles, but it means it clashes with enough ethics class times that it makes sense to cancel a full week of them.

I took Scully on a couple of long walks this morning. At lunch it was warm, but not too hot to go for a long walk, and we went to the bakery down by the harbour for a yummy lunch, then walking back along the shore, which is always nice, with the yachts and the waterbirds. I spotted an unusually high number of kookaburras today, eight of them. One young one was making a horrible noise like a crying baby.

After lunch I did some comic work on Darths & Droids. I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with for the script of this one. I made a new sourdough loaf (currently baking in the oven as I write this), and for dinner lentils with pumpkin and coconut, served over brown rice. I need to make dinners to eat before my three-in-a-row classes start at 6pm, but it has to be something that will last for my wife to eat a bit later. Lentils or vegetable curries with rice work pretty well.

New content today:

Writing about hoaxes

Wow, it was horrible during the night. The temperature barely got below 25°C – the minimum was 24.2°C at 2:30 am, and then it started warming up again. And it was nudging 100% humidity. Even though we had the air conditioner on all evening and turned it off just before bedtime, by 3 am it was so warm that my wife couldn’t sleep and we had to turn it on again.

The day barely got any hotter, reaching only 27°C, but the humidity was oppressive all day, with showers adding to the steamy moisture in the air. It should be a little cooler tonight but it’s ramping up to be a sticky, uncomfortable week ahead, with overnight minimums of 26°C to look forward to.

In other great climate news, the Bureau of Meteorology tells us that the current El Niño conditions are likely to end by June and head back towards another La Niña, the 4th in 5 years. Which means yet another cool, wet summer in store next summer. I was really hoping this summer would dry things out with some nice dry weather, but El Niño hasn’t even delivered that. Apparently the ocean temperatures are at record highs, resulting in a lot more evaporation, and humid air being blown over eastern Australia. I suppose this is probably the pattern as we move into the climate change future.

Today I wrote the coming week’s ethics class, on the topic of Hoaxes. I’m using a few well-known historical hoaxes to prompt questions: the Cottingley Fairies, Cardiff Giant, Great Blue Hill eruption prank, and Helicopter Shark. These run a nice gamut of reasons why people create hoaxes, why people fall for them, how they propagate, consequences of them, and how modern technology enables hoaxes, which we can discuss during the class. Should be a fun topic, starting tomorrow.

Finally, in a slight administrative issue, I did write a post last night, but when I scheduled it to publish just after my comics updated a bit later in the evening, I somehow accidentally changed the scheduled publish date from January to December, so it never auto-published! I’ve pushed it out manually now, which is why you may be seeing two updates at once today.

New content today:

Back to work Monday

It’s the Monday after the long summer holiday and the Australia Day long weekend. Which means lots of people returning to the city after being away up or down the coast, and the beginning of the new school year (which starts tomorrow). Not that I have much to do with any of this, but it’s another of those big marker events in the year that tracks the slow change of the seasons. There’s definitely a different feel when kids are back in school compared to the long summer days when kids can be seen all over town enjoying their time off.

I mostly stayed in though. The weather was warm but not oppressive. I had three more classes this morning (and another to come later tonight). I took Scully for three walks – one in the morning before the day heated up; a short one at lunch time; and a longer one up to the grocery store in the late afternoon so I could get some potatoes for dinner. In the middle of the day the street surfaces are too hot for bare feet or dog paws, so I end up having to carry Scully part of the way, and only let her walk on grass or shaded paths.

I wanted potatoes since I bought vegetarian sausages and my wife suggested a good old bangers & mash for dinner. We have a jar of spicy chilli and capsicum jam which went really well with the sausages.

Not much else to report… oh, I also assembled a week’s worth of Irregular Webcomic! strips, to last through this week. I’ll try to finish off the rest of the whole batch later in the week.

New content today:

Gaddoc Spaceport – a Scum & Villainy adventure

So last night I ran my first adventure using the Scum & Villainy roleplaying game. I did it at the regular Dungeons & Dragons Saturday night open table event at the local science shop. There’s a regular DM who runs an ongoing D&D 5e campaign most weeks, but this week she wanted a break and I’ve filled in a couple of times before, running one shots using D&D B/X rules. Those have been a great hit. But this time I wanted to try something different and decided to run a Star Wars game using Scum & Villainy.

For the adventure, I adapted this idea for a Blades in the Dark one-shot: Part 1, and Part 2. Scum & Villainy uses the same Forged in the Dark game system as Blades in the Dark, so I figured I could reskin it for Star Wars with minimal work. Rather than Gaddoc Station rail terminus, I made it Gaddoc Spaceport, a secondary spaceport in Coronet City on the industrial planet of Corellia, which handles mainly freight. I was aiming for a vibe similar to the opening scenes of the movie Solo.

Here’s the opening narration I wrote:

You’re a gang of ne’er-do-wells, grown up on the harsh streets of Coronet City on the industrial planet of Corellia. The Empire controls this world and a million others, while a small Rebellion tries to overthrow it. But you don’t care about that. You’re out to make a name for yourselves, and maybe enough cred to get off this dump of a world and see the stars. Lady Proxima, leader of the White Worms gang, has asked you to transport a rare case of Savareen Brandy across Coronet City to the Pyke Syndicate cargo yard at Gaddoc Spaceport. The problem is, she obtained this brandy by stealing it from the Crimson Dawn, and Imperial Stormtroopers are looking for it as well, so this will not be an easy task.

When the game began I had three players, none of whom I’d met before. There was a young couple, man and woman about 20 years old, and a boy maybe 12 years old. The kid and the man had played D&D before, but the woman was new to roleplaying and her boyfriend was keen to introduce her to it. I let them choose pregenerated characters from the Scum & Villainy playbooks, except I excluded the Mystic, and decided basically not to mention any uses for the Attune skill – I didn’t want them using the Force. Given it was skinned as Star Wars, this made more sense than S&V’s default that anyone can tap into The Way. The kid chose a Speaker and the name Kodo Vale, the man a Pilot named Crix Baize, and the woman a Scoundrel named Myria Harend. She was a big Star Wars fan—she was wearing a Death Star T-shirt—and liked the idea of being a Han Solo type. (I supplied them with a list of randomly generated Star Wars-like names to choose from.)

Then I gave them their first choice:

This is a Transport job. Select your Route across the city:
• by the narrow alleyways and side-streets, to keep out of sight (requires pushing the cargo on a hover sled),
• by the canals, waterways, and sewers (using a small motor barge),
• or you can try and disguise yourselves as respectable merchants and take open streets (driving an antigrav truck).

I expected they’d choose one of the first two, opting for stealth, but they surprised me by selecting the last option. I got them to choose their Load values, pointing out that they didn’t need to select explicit equipment and could fill it in later as sort of indeterminate quantum-gear (using the game’s Flashback rule). Then it was time for the Engagement roll to kick off the job. They got 1 die for luck, added one for coming up with some nice plan details in discussion, and +1 for using one of their friends to give them a clear best route across town to the spaceport. Myria rolled the dice and got… two 6s! A critical success on the very first roll!

This meant their job began exceptionally well, having overcome the first obstacle already. I described how they spotted some Crimson Dawn sharpshooters on the roofs overlooking their route, clearly looking for them, but that they’d managed to drive right under their noses in their nondescript truck and get away from them without any problem at all.

Next they rounded a corner and spotted a temporary Imperial checkpoint, set up with troopers inspecting traffic. Being in a controlled position (game mechanically), there was a queue of vehicles and they had time to reverse or turn down another street to avoid the checkpoint, but they decided they didn’t want to risk drawing attention to themselves and waited it out to then try and bluff their way through. This first skill roll (Sway) scored a partial success, so they got through, but a suspicious trooper called in their vehicle registration for a check. I started a 4-segment clock labelled “Imperial alert”, explaining that if it got filled then the troopers would be actively looking for them. This was good because it really set the expectation that they needed to be careful if encountering more troopers.

They also avoided conflict with a pair of thugs tailing them by some fast driving (using Helm), and then found their final path to the spaceport blocked by construction work. This time they used Command to order the workers to clear a way for them by pretending to be delivering urgent medical supplies. By now a fourth player had arrived, the usual DM for the weekly D&D games. She chose to play a Stitch named Jama Vancil, and used her medic garb and supplies to convince the construction workers of their mission and urgency. Again, the roll went well – they’d had no failures so far, but I had their situation at Risky now due to partial successes.

There was another obstacle at the spaceport perimeter. Lady Proxima had given them a security pass, but swiping it resulted in a red light and “fail” bleep. I described a security camera pointed straight at the face of Crix, the driver, and a speaker emitting a voice, “Looks like that’s expired. Do you have any other ID?” They tried to Sway their way through with the same medical emergency story and showing Jama’s actual medical ID. The roll was good, so they got in.

But the Pyke Syndicate cargo yard inside the port was surrounded by customs officials and troopers, apparently doing an inspection for contraband. I’d expected some blaster fighting at some point and thought this would finally be it, but again they tried a fast-talking approach, this time with bribes. They also asked if any of the customs officials had a small medical issue that Jama might be able to deal with, so I rolled a Fortune roll and it came up positive, so I said the captain had a dodgy leg. Jama made a Doctor roll successfully to provide relief, and the captain let them through.

And so they delivered their crate of brandy to the Pyke Syndicate! Now I processed end-of-job payoff, Heat, entanglements, and downtime. Lady Proxima gave them a small crate of valuable Mandalorian iron as payment, plus a portable nanofab that could produce any small tool up to the size of a hamburger or so, in a few minutes. I figured they could use this creatively on the next job. I explained the Downtime options briefly, and they decided to try some healing on Kodo, who’d taken a grazed leg at some point as a partial success consequence (I think at the construction site). They almost rolled good enough to fill his healing clock, but left it at 5/6 completed. Oh well… time for the next job!

This job was based very heavily on Sean Nittner’s Gaddoc Rail score for Blades in the Dark, just reskinned for Star Wars. I introduced the job:

Gaddoc Spaceport is a secondary spaceport in Coronet City, concentrating on freight, but with some passenger capacity. Passengers can be tied up for days in its Imperial immigration offices. Independent trader pilots are detained here while Imperial troopers poke and prod their ships to check for smuggling holds, illegal cargo, and fugitives. Dingy shops hawking local souvenirs to travellers are butted up against foreign quarters offering temporary housing for visitors from other worlds. It is rife with opportunity and peril, often both aboard the same ship. 
Last night the light freight cruiser Ursa Vaga limped into Gaddoc Spaceport on auxiliary engines, its hull plating scorched and sparking with electroplasmic lightning. On it was your mark. Nobody left the freight terminal after it landed. No one has left the terminal since…

Next I asked them questions about the job to set up the details. “Who sent you on this job? Who will you have to answer to if you come back empty handed?” They got to choose between Lady Proxima (the one who gave them the first job), Lom Pyke (head of the Pyke Syndicate, who they delivered the brandy to), or Jabba the Hutt. They chose Jabba!

Next: “Your score is valuable, dangerous, and illegal. What is it especially?” They chase dangerous. I asked them what was so dangerous about it and what did they need to do to keep it contained. They discussed and decided the target was a crate of assassin centipedes, as seen in Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. Fatal bites, but they could be controlled by a gas, similar to using smoke on bees. They packed a gas canister for use.

Next: “What do you just know will make this job harder?” They could choose between a trap laid by their enemies, a rogue bounty hunter lurking in the spaceport, or Rebel agents also interested in something on the Ursa Vaga. They chose the last one. And so the job was set up.

Now they had to choose their plan: an open assault on the spaceport, infiltration unseen, bluffing in via deception, or negotiating their way in with bribes/persuasion. They chose infiltration, and came up with a plan to go in via underground maintenance tunnels, disguised as maintenance workers.

After the engagement roll I had them go in via the tunnels. They had to deal with some tunnel space-rat type creatures and get through some obstacles that I used a progress clock to track. The last one was a biometric door scanner. Jama tried to Hack it to get through, rolling a partial success, so I had the consequence be that she left her fingerprints all over it and this could come back to haunt her later. But this filled the progress clock and they emerged inside the spaceport from a maintenance building.

They headed towards the Ursa Vaga, but found it surrounded by a quarantine fence enclosing the ship and three adjacent ships on other pads. Workers in armoured suits were poking crevices of one of the other ships with shock prods. I had in mind a kind of mynock-infestation thing that they were trying to control.

The players figured it was probably safe enough to get into the Ursa Vaga, if only they could get past the quarantine barrier. And here’s where they made the coolest flashback of the game. Jama had a drug-dealer friend who she said had contacts in the spaceport quarantine department. Narrating the flashback, Jama’s player said she’d arranged with her friend to have someone in quarantine primed to help them. I assessed the Stress cost and called for a roll and it was successful, setting them up to have a friendly face in the quarantine crew letting them slip inside the perimeter.

They climbed the cargo ramp of the Ursa Vaga, but right behind them were two thugs, apparently from a rival gang. Their position was controlled at this point, so there was no immediate threat of danger from the thugs, so the crew just decided to ignore them and let them look around the ship independently. The crew searched the cargo holds and found one room with a large cage, with bars bent outwards like something had escaped. In the final hold, they found their target—the crate holding the centipedes—and the giant rancor that had escaped its cage! Having avoided blaster fire the whole adventure so far, I was sure they’d attack the beast at this point. But no! They decided to leg it and let the rancor chase them outside, then duck back around and go back in. Crix with his Pilot speed and daring led the group action and they pulled it off. I described the rancor ripping into the quarantine workers outside, and the crew went back on board the ship to get the centipedes.

They were debating how to get the heavy metal crate, too heavy for them to carry, off the ship. I decided they were taking too long and activated the Rebel agents complication. The Rebels were after holographic data intel on the Empire, and the agents they sent had decided the best way to escape with it was to steal the ship! I described the cargo ramp coming up and the engines warming up for take-off. The crew raced to the bridge to deal with the Rebels…

They decided to appeal to their better natures and just let them off the ship with their cargo before taking off. It was a partial success, so I allowed them to get off with the crate on a hover-dolly. But as the ship took off behind them, the crew now stood on a vacant landing pad, bloody bodies all around, and an angry rancor staring straight at them.

Finally, they drew blasters and opened fire! Their goal was to distract or incapacitate the beast enough that they could scramble past it with their cargo and escape. The roll was another partial success, so they succeeded, but two of them took wounds from the rancor’s claws on the way. The entire ruckus and ship blasting off filled the Imperial alert clock, so now they had stormtroopers racing in to stop them escaping the spaceport. Blaster fire all over the place! Jama Rigged the gas canister with some other medical supplies to create a distracting cloud of covering fog, and they used this to escape while the others returned fire, taking a few blaster wounds along the way.

And so they managed to get away with their precious cargo and deliver it to Jabba’s agents. The crew were all bruised and battered, everyone taking at least one wound, and all of them very close to full Stress tracks. It was really awesome and gave a great feeling over the adventure of things going from smoothly to risky to desperate and them getting away by the skin of their teeth.

We finished up there, and didn’t go through the Downtime activities, but I explained the rules options and that if we were playing a campaign, they’d have to prioritise indulging vice to clear Stress, or healing their wounds, or lying low to reduce their Heat (notoriety with law enforcement), which had accumulated to 7 Heat during the two jobs.

Here are the props we used during the game. I made stand-up name tags for everyone, so we could remember the character (and player) names. I used Lego stormtroopers to represent the crew’s gambits (optional bonus dice for rolls).

Scum & Villainy props

Wow, it was a fantastic adventure that really rolled to an exciting climax. And the Scum & Villainy system was easy enough to explain relevant rules when they came up, and all the players really got into it.

Today I spent some time making comics, and had three ethics classes. I made a sourdough loaf for lunches over the next few days. And that’s about it. I didn’t really go out at all. I would have liked to do a run, but my ankle has gone sore again, so I want to stay off it until it’s better.

New content today:

Running Scum & Villainy

Today I did final prep for the Star Wars Scum & Villainy game that I ran this evening. And then I went up to the science shop to start at 6pm. We had 4 players, a perfect number, 3 of them new to the venue. They all enjoyed the game and I had a great time too. I don’t have time to write much more about it now, but will try to summarise the game tomorrow.

New content today:

Scorching hot Australia Day

It’s Australia Day, our national public holiday. But as every year, the debate and controversy over the day intensifies. I feel like it’s reached a point where it’s so uncomfortable for so many people that there’s no way the holiday can be saved. For years we’ve had a significant portion of the population campaigning to change the date away from 26 January. This time there’s now a noticeable shift and people calling for the holiday to be abolished altogether. Perhaps replaced with something else, but no ongoing holiday called “Australia Day”, even if it is moved to a different date.

Honestly, the momentum is so high and growing every year, that I truly think it’s just a matter of time. It’s predominantly older, conservative people who want to keep Australia Day as it is. The growing number of young people who have more progressive views on Australia’s colonial history are going to be the majority before too much longer, and it will be inevitable that the holiday is moved or changed or abolished.

I kind of wish it would happen sooner rather than later because the day has just become an uncomfortable thing that happens every year and people argue about it, or don’t want to talk about it. I think it’s really reached the point where our national day has devolved into almost what would be a parodic joke if it wasn’t for the fact that so many people find it genuinely offensive.

Besides the political heat over the day and what it means, it was physically hot. We reached 38.5°C in Sydney, over 40°C in some suburbs. But the temperature dropped 10 degrees in half an hour in mid-afternoon as a southerly wind came in.

My wife had a day off work for the public holiday, but I did my normal 4 online classes. We’re going to take Scully for a longer walk this evening in the cooler air as the sun goes down, and then maybe play some board games later in the evening.

New content today:

Busy day, weather ramping up

Thursday is teaching five online classes, leaving not so much time for other things. I took Scully for a longer walk early, before the day heated up too much, since the forecast was hot. I did my first lesson for the older kids on the topic of Employment, which went fairly well. The younger kids with the Gift Giving topic is a bit more fun. I had some interestingly varied responses today to the question of what to do with a gift that you find disappointing. Many kids say you should keep it anyway, but one this evening said you should sell it and use the money to buy something you like, since the giver would expect you to get some enjoyment out of it!

The heat is ramping up here for a forecast 40°C scorcher tomorrow, bang on time for the Australia Day public holiday (more about which tomorrow when I have more time to write). But there’s also concerns about Tropical Cyclone Kirrily, which was predicted yesterday to hit Townsville as a low range category 2 storm, but which today unexpectedly intensified to category 3, and which should be making landfall within the hour as I type. There are over 20,000 customers without power already, and repairs will take days after the storm. Over a metre of rain is forecast. Hopefully everyone up there will be safe.

New content today:

Repotting chillis and a new game expansion

This morning I took Scully on a long walk, around down by the harbour shore. The forecast was hot, so I didn’t want to take her out for long at lunch time, and got her walk in early before the roads heated up too much in the sun for her paws. I did a bird count on the walk and recorded 13 species. None of the slightly more interesting water birds like cormorants, herons, or ducks today. A lot of sulphur-crested cockatoos though, screeching loudly – those ones can really make a racket.

When I got home I photographed the remainder of the latest batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I started working on last week. Then I turned to making a new Darths & Droids strip.

I also repotted the new chilli plant we bought a few days ago. I had a terracotta pot from the previous good chilli plant – not the scrawny recent one that never produced any chillis. I put the new plant in there to give it more room to grow. Of course this meant spilt soil al over the balcony, so I had to clean that up. I also gave the lime tree a thorough cleaning – the leaves get dirty with dust and grime so I wiped them off with a wet cloth.

This evening I did the first three ethics classes on the topic of Gift Giving. One of the most controversial questions was on regifting. Some kids thought it was fine if you didn’t like a gift to give it away to someone else, or even just throw it away, while others said you had to keep it, but maybe stick it in the back of a cupboard or something.

New content today:

Not in hot water

Today I had a maintenance guy from the gas company come around to replace our hot water meter. This is a periodic thing they do every 7 years for all customers, to ensure the meters are up to date and working properly. They gave me a window of 10:00-12:00 when the guy would arrive. Of course, there was no sign of him until almost 12:30. Then it took half an hour to do the job. Meanwhile I was hoping that Scully didn’t suddenly need to go out for a toilet, as I would have had to ask the worker to leave while I took Scully out. I don’t want a stranger in our home while nobody else is in here.

But Scully was fine, and after the guy finished replacing the meter we went out for a walk. The morning was cool and cloudy, with heavy rain from about 6am to 9am. It cleared up, and by the afternoon it was warm and sunny, though not too hot. The next three days however are forecast to be heatwave conditions, with temperatures around 40°C across parts of Sydney.

There’s also the tropical low off Queensland which is expected to be declared Tropical Cyclone Kirrily some time tonight. It’s still tracking to hit Townsville, and forecast to dump over a meter of rain the next few days to a wide area still recovering from widespread heavy flooding.

I spent much of the day writing new lessons for the new week of ethics classes. I have split topics for the two age groups this week: Gift Giving for 10-12, and Employment for 13-15. I managed to complete both of them by mid-afternoon, which is really good going. I also cleaned up the laundry a bit since that’s where the hot water meter is, and threw out some old cleaning products that we were unlikely to use. So that felt pretty productive.

For diner tonight I made calzones, filled with broccoli, pumpkin, and ricotta. Topped with a chilli and garlic tomato sauce, they were really good.

New content today:

Finishing off minor laws

Monday is the last day of the ethics class week, and I finished off the topic on “Minor laws” today. It’s been a very interesting topic, with a lot of diverse opinions and observations by the children in the various class groups.

The main thing we discussed was jaywalking, but we also touched on other laws that many people break such as littering, speeding, gambling, and one that came up with a few of the kids who live in Singapore—chewing gum. Some of the kids are very averse to law breaking of any type, and said people should absolutely not jaywalk, even if you’re running late and it’s perfectly safe, while other kids were very gung-ho and said it was fine to jaywalk as long as you can see the traffic and have enough time to cross. Among the latter group there were many differing opinions on what makes it okay to jaywalk illegally: that it’s safe, that you’re not hurting anyone, that it’s inconvenient to wait for the light to change if you’re in a hurry, that you’ll get away with it without being punished, and that everyone does it. These were all given as justifications. Overall, a fascinating topic, and I think the kids really enjoyed it too.

There wasn’t much unusual to report about today. The weather cooled off dramatically overnight and today was temperate and mostly cloudy, reaching only 24.9°C. It’s going to stay this way for a couple of days before becoming very hot again at the end of the week.

My twisted ankle feels a lot better – basically back to normal with no discomfort. I might try a gentle run tomorrow evening to test it out.

Oh, I bought a new chilli plant to replace the one that I got back in September. That one has failed to produce any chillis, or even flowers, and is a decrepit wreck after being savaged by insects. It’s in stark contrast to the first chilli plant I bought years ago which was robust and strong and producing chillis within a few weeks of purchase. The small supermarket up the street had a selection of plants with chillis already forming on them, and I decided to grab one and throw the old one out. They were listed at $12, and even if I just cut the existing chillis off and it never grows any more that will be well worth it. And then the cashier rang it up for just $6, so that’s even better!

New content today: