Special calzones with caramelised fennel

Today was cold. I took Scully for a morning walk and it was pretty chilly.

This morning I sold some more old Magic cards online. I had to make a couple of packages and take them to the post office after lunch. I spent some time working on Darths & Droids comics, scripts and producing the actual strips.

And I started cooing early for a special dinner. I chopped up a whole fennel bulb and fried it up to caramelise it and make it soft, adding a bit of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the saucepan and add flavour. I let that sit for the afternoon. Then this evening I made pizza dough, chopped up some spinach leaves and blanched them quickly. I assembled them into calzones, with ricotta cheese, and baked them in the oven. I’d also made a tomato sauce with chopped onions, garlic, basil, and oregano, to spoon over the top of the baked calzones.

I’ve made calzones before, with either just spinach and ricotta, or mushrooms inside. This was the first time I tried fennel and it was delicious, adding another dimension to the flavours.

I’m also starting to organise our next Dungeons & Dragons session, which is planned for 28 June. I thought we could use another payer, and remembered an old friend who I haven’t seen for a while. She used to play with me and one of the other current players in different games many years ago. If you read Irregular Webcomic!, you’ll know her as the player of Alvissa the elf in the Fantasy theme and Paris in the Space theme. So I sent her an email to invite her to join our current game.

New content today:

Titardinal’s Tower, session 1

Friday was a very busy day! I did final preparations for the evening’s Dungeons & Dragons session. A full play report is below!

I also drove over to Loreto Kirribilli, dropping Scully off at my wife’s work on the way, to give my talk to the students there. The day was very hot, reaching 38°C, and humid, so I really didn’t fancy walking all that way. I was worried about finding parking near the school, so gave myself plenty of time. But I found a spot right in front of the school gate, just three or four metres from where I could walk in! Most of the parking around Kirribilli is restricted to 2 hours parking, but this spot right in front of the school was unrestricted between 10:00 and 14:30 – but was no parking during the school drop-off and pick-up times.

The teacher in charge of my visit met me and took me into the lovely cool air conditioned room where I’d give the talk to the kids. This was in the junior school, so kids about 8-10 years old. I gave my talk on the overlaps between astronomy, photography, and human vision, to a group of about 40 kids. They looked pretty rapt, and several asked interesting questions. A very articulate girl named Alice gave a short thank you speech at the end, several kids hung around to ask me more questions, and then they all ran off to their classes at the end of lunch. It was really good, and the teacher was very happy and asked me to come back as often as I could manage.

In the evening I ran D&D with my friends. Saturday morning I went for a 5k run – my first for nearly 2 weeks since I skipped last weekend to let my ankle recover. It was cool and rainy, and I did a reasonable time. And then most of today I was typing up the following D&D play log…

Tidying up and Training: Brandonstead to Neensford

After the vanquishing of the Wyrm of Brandonstead, the heroes returned to Brandonstead with their treasure. The villagers were united in thanking them for slaying the dragon. Having found the bodies of the dwarven brothers Grimni and Kedri, it seems that the third brother Brol was somehow cursed into turning into the dragon.

Garamond had claimed the magical Sword of Sir Brandon and Plate Mail of Sir Brandon, but the villagers insisted politely that these historical relics belonged in the village. Garamond gracefully gave them up.

The party returned home to Neensford, three days march south. Here they cashed in much of the treasure, using it to pay their mentors for training. Notgandalf’s mentor Jessica the Mindstoker gifted him a new spell for his spellbook: Levitation. Garamond returned from his time training with the elves of the forest with the new spell Wizard Lock.

Swirling Rumours: Neensford to Benton

Towards the end of their training period, with the weather turning from summer into early autumn, a travelling merchant arrived from the east, bearing news of import: The great wizard Titardinal had died! Titardinal was known for having a secluded tower a week’s ride to the east, past the village of Benton. The party gathered to share what rumours they’d previously heard about Titardinal. They augmented this by asking around the village for anything that anyone else knew.

  • Titardinal? Crazy old coot. They say he went off the deep end and built that tower all by his lonesome up by the lake.
  • They say the lake spirit cursed the wizard for his arrogance, twisting his tower into a maze of madness. Those who enter never return the same.
  • They say the undines imprisoned within the tower’s fountain are not as innocent as they seem. Some claim they hold the key to unlocking the tower’s secrets, while others warn of their vengeful nature.
  • Rumours swirl of a secret chamber hidden beneath the lake’s surface, accessible only to those who know the right incantations. But tread carefully, for the spirits of the deep do not take kindly to intruders.
  • There are those who claim the wizard’s tower holds the key to great power, but it’s guarded by creatures of nightmare. Only the bravest—or the most foolish—would dare to enter.
  • There are rumours of a secret entrance to the tower, accessible only during the full moon when the barriers between worlds are weakest. But those who seek it must first navigate the treacherous cliffs surrounding the lake.
  • I’ve heard tales of a hidden library within the tower, filled with ancient tomes and forbidden knowledge. But beware, for the books themselves are said to be cursed, driving those who read them to madness.

Questioning the merchant revealed that the news had travelled slowly. Titardinal seemed to have vanished several months ago, but nobody had carried the news to Neensford before now. The party decided that a recently deceased powerful wizard’s tower should contain many treasures and potentially magic items, and was worth investigating.

They equipped themselves with two wagons for transporting the party (Brigette, Drashi, Garamond, Nogge, Notgandalf) and their retainers (Fingers, Tarlan, and 5 other journeymen adventurers), plus four horses to draw them. Nogge bought a riding horse for himself, not wanting to ride in a wagon. They journeyed six days to the east, up into the foothills of the Black Peak Mountains, to the village of Benton. Here they paused to refresh themselves from time on the road, and approached the innkeeper to ask about Titardinal:

  • Rumour has it Titardinal was head over heels for the Spirit of the Lake. Built his tower smack dab by the water just to catch her eye, they say.

Titardinal’s Tower still lay a day’s travel to the north-east, up into the Black Peak Mountains. They travelled up the narrow track and made camp near the pass that gave access to a valley with a beautiful blue mountain lake, surrounded by slopes covered in pine, cedar, and fir trees.

Approaching Titardinal’s Tower

The next morning dawned clear and sunny. From the pass, the party spied out the land below. On a small tied island attached to the near shore of the lake rose a circular stone tower, narrow, about seven storeys tall. No door was visible from the pass, but four floors of widely spaced windows could be seen making up the upper four floors of the tower, above a smooth section below with no windows. The battlement on the roof was partly crumbled in places. As they watched, a large white pelican flew from the lake up to one of the lowest windows, perched, and ducked inside. Another pelican emerged from a different window at that level and flew off to forage.

Also visible from the pass was a small encampment on the shore, about half a mile from the tower, by a stream emptying into the lake. A dozen or so small humanoid figures could be seen occasionally, scurrying under a large sky-blue tarpaulin set up as a shelter. Goblins! The party deliberated dealing with the encampment first, to ensure no surprise attacks from behind while exploring the tower, but decided to tackle the tower first.

Nogge: All I’m saying is it could come back to bite us in the butt.
DM: So you’re setting up an “I told you so” for Nogge?
Nogge: Right.

Rather than take all the retainers and the wagons down to the lake, where they might be seen by the goblins, they instructed the retainers to set up camp in the pass and wait there.

Drashi: Equals sign the wagons.
All: Huh?
Drashi: You can’t circle them. There’s only two.
Nogge: You’d need an infinite number to make a circle. We need three or more to even make make a polyhedron.
Brigette: Polyhedron? Just how mountainous is this region?

They approached carefully in the brush, avoiding making themselves obvious to the goblins. Fingers scouted around the base of the tower, reporting that there was a large double door on the far side, facing the lake. He also said the lock had evidently been broken.

The party pushed open the doors carefully, revealing a “welcoming” hall decorated with iron gibbets hanging from chains, containing skeletons. They carefully probed the skeletons with poles to make sure they weren’t undead, then ratcheted the chains down to examine them more closely. They found a silvery ring on the bony finger of one skeleton. A search of the room also turned up a pewter scroll case which contained an old sheet of parchment with a letter:

Most Esteemed Titardinal,

I beg of you to reconsider this mad project of yours and return to my side as my most trusted advisor.

(Signed) Duke Trayko of Verge.

The Madness of Titardinal’s Tower

As they stood in the reception hall, tiny motes of sparkling light appeared and attached themselves to each party member, circling above their heads. These appeared harmless, and not bright enough to explore by, so the group lit torches and lanterns and progressed into the tower.

First they tried a passage to the south, which led to a square room with floor length tapestries on each wall. The passage they emerged from was hidden behind a blue tapestry showing the lake. Other walls contained a red tapestry showing a mountain scene, a yellow one depicting a desert scene, and a green one with a scene deep in a deciduous forest. Notgandalf, drawing a map, expressed confusion as, according to the pacing out of room sizes, this tapestry room should be outside the southern wall of the tower. Brigette suggested it was some wizard shenanigans and the tapestries actually transported people who stepped past them to different locations. So the tapestry room itself was not within the tower, but somewhere else, and if one were to step from the room past the blue tapestry they would be transported into the tower.

They decided not to pass beyond the blue tapestry, but retreated to the entrance hall and tried the other exit, an arched doorway with a wooden door that had fallen off its hinges. This led into a dismal cell, with manacles and shackles.

This Titardinal really didn’t like visitors, did he?

In the cell, a second spark of light joined the first around each adventurer’s head. And they noticed a brass symbol inset in the floor, a number “2”. Quickly they went back and checked the floor of the welcome hall more carefully, finding a long, straight strip of brass set into the floor, which they now recognised as a numeral “1”. This prompted some experimentation.

Nogge, accompanied by two sparks, went to look at the tapestry room again. Pulling the blue tapestry aside, he spotted a brass number “18” on the floor. He decided to enter the room, pushing past the tapestry. When he set foot inside the room, the two sparks around his head vanished. One returned when he re-entered the welcome hall, and a second when he went back into the cell. The party surmised that sparks would accumulate as they traversed rooms in numerical order, but would reset to zero if they ever entered a room out of sequence.

Now they continued exploring. An open passage from the cell led to a north-south corridor with five other openings on the sides. They tried the south-east one first, revealing a cell numbered “23”. This cell contained windows, and they could see that they were no longer on the ground floor! Going in to check, they saw the eastern window was on the 5th floor of the tower (with one window below them and two above). There were also heavy, rusty chains dangling down from the window above, and down from the sill to the window below. The other window, in the north wall of the same room, appeared to be looking south from the 7th floor!

Now the party realised what madness Titardinal’s Tower held.

Deeper Exploration

The group quickly checked the other cells along the corridor. The south-west was labelled “6”, and had another passage leading west. The central west cell was “5”, with no exits. The north-west cell was “4”, and had a window in the north wall, which appeared to look west on level 5.

Next they tried along the corridor to the north. This opened into a large room covered in muck and guano, inhabited by giant pelicans, taller than a human. Nogge carefully took a step into the room to see if he would attract a third spark, but the two around his head vanished. He concluded this was not room number 3, but a pelican took unkindly to his intrusion and attacked! Nogge beat off the giant probing beak and smote the pelican with his magical two-handed sword, driving it back into the foetid rookery.

The final cell, in the north-east, turned out to be room “3”. People collected a third spark as expected, and Nogge returned to the welcome hall to reassemble his as well. Cell 3 also had a window in the north wall, looking west from level 6. As this was directly above the window in cell 4 directly across the corridor, they tried stationing one person at each window at the same time to see if they could see each other by looking up/down, and they could. The group concluded that at least it was only spatial weirdness going on, and not time shenanigans as well.

Then they traversed rooms 4, 5, and 6 to accumulate 6 sparks each. The other passage from cell 6 led them north-west up a set of stairs to a circular room with exit passages north and south, a window north-west, a brass “7” in the floor, and a large fountain in the middle. Could this be the rumoured fountain of the undines?

As Brigette approached the fountain, ghostly shapes like young children appeared in the water. They saw the sparks about Brigette’s head and merged into a serpent-like shape that stretched from the water to attack her! Brigette yelled to stop attacking, that they were here to help them. The undines paused, and asked why they had the sparks; they were doing the evil wizard’s work! Brigette conversed, trying to convince the undines that the party meant no harm. The undines revealed that Titardinal had trapped them in the fountain to power a devastating spell to “destroy everything”, and the sparks were part of it. They begged the party to “destroy the altar” so that the spell could never be completed.

The group discussed ways to free the undines, including siphoning the water out the window and smashing the fountain to spill the water. But the undines said they were trapped here magically and the only way to free them was to destroy the altar. They asked the party to swear a solemn oath that they would do it. When Brigette swore, they presented her with a sword from the fountain water, saying it was the sword of the Lake Spirit.

What Madness is This?

The group decided the right thing to do was to return the sword to the Lake Spirit as soon as possible. They retreated out through the cells and the entrance hall to the front door of the tower, seeking to gaze out on the lake. They pulled the doors open warily, half-expecting the camp of goblins to be waiting for them. But there were no goblins.

And there was no lake.

The beautiful blue mountain lake had vanished. All they could see was mountain slopes lined with green trees. Everyone stood dumbstruck for a minute.

Nogge: That…. is the last thing I expected.

Brigette walked forward carefully, probing the ground with a pole. After several steps the pole indicated the edge of the lake and Brigette walked forward, getting her feet wet. The lake seemed to be there, but none of them could see it. Brigette placed the sword in the (unseen) water and called to the Lake Spirit to accept their offering. But after several minutes, nothing happened and the sword was still there – Brigette feeling for it in the unseen water.

She decided to strip off her armour and swim out into deeper water. Others suggested tying a rope to her, since nobody could actually see the lake, to avoid her getting lost. This done, Brigette swam out and dived with the sword, attempting to offer it to the Lake Spirit. But after some minutes of this to no avail, she gave up.

As she dried off on the shore of the lake they could not see, they discussed the mysterious illusion before them. How did this happen? Why was the lake hidden from them? What time was it? They looked at the sky.

They couldn’t see the sky.

They saw stars in inky blackness. But the sun was up – it was dazzlingly bright in the sky, they could feel its warmth, and see the shadows on the ground around them. It was daylight, but the stars were out.

They concluded that if the Lake Spirit was too distant or too busy to take the sword, they would just have to go back into the tower and try to find and destroy the altar.

Drashi: Good thing it’s still daynight.

But first they wanted to check the tapestry room again, as they suspected that maybe there was some strange teleportation going on. They wanted to check if they were still in the tower behind the blue lake tapestry. But when they walked down the corridor from the reception hall to the tapestry, it wasn’t there – the corridor ended at a blank stone wall! Nogge felt the wall… and found he could feel a tapestry. He pulled it aside, revealing the tapestry room beyond, with the red, yellow, and green tapestries. But entering the room, the tapestry behind could not be seen, and it looked like a stone wall, though he could still feel the tapestry and pull it aside to re-enter the corridor. Curiouser and curiouser…

Finding the Altar

The group returned to the fountain room, not bothering to collect sparks by traversing rooms 3-5. They told the undines what happened as Fingers scouted the corridor to the south. He returned and said it led to a dining room with a couple of giants, twice the height of a person, sitting on the floor, grumbling and playing cards at the dining table. The window here looked north (as determined by the sun) from level 7.

The passage north led down a stair to a square room with exits in all four walls and the number “8” on the floor. Old paintings were hung on the narrow walls between the exits. A window in the west wall revealed the view from the level 7 northern window. They determined the passage east led downstairs to the pelican room. Nogge feared the pelican room would be room 9, but the number was hidden under the muck and guano and it would be impossible to find without killing all the pelicans. He did an experiment collecting sparks to test this idea. He returned from the entry hall with 8 sparks and stepped carefully into the pelican room, timing it when none of the pelicans was looking his way, and collected a ninth spark.

Having proven this, they proceeded north from the art gallery room, descending into a landing before a wide staircase leading back upwards. Large alcoves in the east and west walls housed evil looking human statues. A brass number “13” was set into the floor. The party climbed the steps to an intermediate landing, with more steps leading up to the north to a similar looking landing with statues. But here in the middle landing there were narrow passages leading east and west.

They chose the eastern passage, emerging in a crypt containing a stone sarcophagus, engraved with a magical looking sigil, and a brass number “14” in the floor. Stairs led up to the north and down to the east. The eastern stairs led down to an L-shaped room “15”, which appeared to be the bottom of a cess pit, with a mound of rotting food refuse, filth, and dung, below a shaft that ascended from the ceiling. Two giant flies that were buzzing around the muck attacked them but the party took care of them with some swift sword blows. The group didn’t fancy trying to climb up the reeking shaft to reach what they expected would be room 16, so they retreated to 14 and took the stairs north.

This led to Titardinal’s study, with a desk and bookshelves, in disarray and clearly partly searched through by someone. The floor was labelled with a brass “22”. Notgandalf perused the books, looking for anything magical. Fingers hushed everyone and said he could hear voices and shushing noises. He indicated a corner where the noise was coming from, and said he recognised goblin language. He translated, “Shhh, stay quite and they won’t notice us.”

Notgandalf cast Detect Magic, but this didn’t reveal anything, except a couple of the books still on the shelf, which he grabbed quickly, and the ring that had been taken from the skeleton in the entry hall. Nogge and Brigette advanced on the corner of the room and poked ahead of them with the sword blades. Suddenly one noticed resistance and a voice cried out in pain! Goblin voices called out and disembodied arms wielding swords appeared out of nowhere, charging the party!

The goblins fought bravely, perhaps thinking they had the advantage, but three were cut down by swords and Notgandalf’s Magic Missile, and Drashi, wielding the Silver Axe of Sir Wylt, sliced clean through the arm of the fourth, dropping the arm and sword to the floor. Tarlan located the screaming invisible goblin and pulled an invisible cloak off it, revealing the now armless creature. He applied some bandages while others found the other bodies and removed invisible cloaks from them as well.

They questioned the goblin, who claimed to be from the Rikalu tribe, the “best goblins, better than the dirty Fivarin tribe”. He said the goblins in the camp would make short work of the party, for not only did they have warriors but also a mighty shaman. The party debated, and decided they couldn’t let the goblin flee to inform his comrades, so they put him out of his misery.

Brigette tried on one of the “invisibility cloaks” and discovered to her dismay that she couldn’t see anything while under it. “What use is a cloak of invisibility that you can’t see through?!” They also realised that the cloaks had not detected as magical to Notgandalf’s spell. Nevertheless, they bundled the invisible cloths up and took them.

Among the mess in the study they found several architectural drawings, showing apparent alternative layouts for the tower rooms. They all showed numbered rooms, and described the final room 24 as being the altar room. Furthermore, the window in this room looked east from level 6, directly above a window in the cell room 23 they had already visited. They surmised they were meant to climb down the chain from 22 to 23, and then out the other window from 23 to reach the altar in room 24.

Notgandalf actually wanted to climb down the chain directly to 23, but the others decided to just walk back the way they’d come through the rooms. They reached cell 23 to find Notgandalf waiting for them. Looking out the other window, on level 7 looking south, they noticed it not only had a chain dangling down to whatever unknown room had the window on level 6, but there was also a chain leading up to the rooftop. This seemed intriguing enough that they despatched Fingers to climb up. He secured a rope at the top to tie to people to avoid falling, and the rest of the party clambered onto the rooftop.

Here they found an 8-foot square stone altar placed on the crumbling roof, with carved magical sigils on the sides. Set into the stones of the rooftop was the brass number 24. This was the altar the undines wanted them to destroy!

Brigette: I gently stab the altar with the undine sword.

That did nothing. They tried chipping away at the magical sigils to deface them. Brigette and Drashi, using their dwarven stonecunnning, determined that the altar was not attached to the roof, and could probably be dragged or pushed if enough people were available. They estimated about ten people would be needed to shift it. And perhaps they could push it off the roof and let it smash on the ground below. They considered using ropes or levers, but there was no simple way to arrange this to gain a mechanical advantage.

The seven of them weren’t strong enough together to shift the altar. But they had five retainers waiting for them back at their camp in the mountain pass. The group sat to consider their options…

New content today:

Virtual Tokyo meeting, day 3

The final day of the ISO Photography Standards meeting was relatively easy compared to the first two. We had technical sessions on ISO DNG file format, and measuring image flare. This last one was the most interesting to me, and there was a cool presentation with videos showing how image flare changes as a bright light source is moved across the image frame. After this we had the closing plenary session, with administrative wrapping up of the meeting, finalising action items, and so on.

In between I spent a bit of time working on new character sheets to print out for D&D tomorrow night. Everyone has levelled up to third level and I also want to introduce a variant combat rule that relies on PCs making defence rolls instead of monsters making attack rolls, so I thought it was a good time to refresh the character sheets to contain the new defence roll stat.

The weather was warm, and I thought the air conditioning was struggling, until my wife got home and pointed out that one of the living room windows had been wide open all day! Oops.

New content today:

Double running early Sunday morning

My wife expressed a desire to begin running for her fitness. She already goes to the gym most days, but wanted to add some more aerobic activity. SO this morning she set an alarm and soon after 06:30 we walked up to the nearest sports oval. I’ve done some running around here, since it’s nice and flat with no hills, but I find it boring because running laps doesn’t take me past any interesting scenery. But my wife wanted to start easy.

She ran 2.5k, although she was a bit staggered when she asked how many laps that would be and I told her five and a half. I looked after Scully while she ran, and Scully wanted to run after her, but that probably wouldn’t have been great after a while, so I held on to her on the lead. My wife took it nice and slowly and managed to complete the laps with a little bit of walking in between longer spurts of jogging. After she was done I started my 5k run around the oval (11 and a bit laps), while she took Scully to a nearby cafe to get a drink.

We did some stretches afterwards and were back home before 08:00. It’s actually really nice to get up early and do something and have a feeling of achievement while the day is still young. Although given I went to bed late last night after running the D&D game, I could have used a bit more sleep!

Speaking of last night’s Dungeons & Dragons game, I wanted to mention a fun thing that happened. But I know some of my friends read my blog, and I want to possibly run the same adventure with them some time soon, so:

If you’re one of my D&D players, please don’t open the following spoiler text:


At one point in the adventure they found a vampire, impaled through the chest with a magic sword. This sword was one of the main goals of the adventure, so they wanted to retrieve it. The problem was if they removed it, the vampire would be released. It was currently pinned by the sword, and could talk, so it begged to be released. The party were understandably cautious, not wanting to release a vampire who might immediately attack them. The plan they came up with involved: moving the vampire still impaled by the sword onto a magical floating disc, covering the vampire with a tarpaulin, moving the disc outside the cave they found him in, which was hidden behind a waterfall, moving him to the opposite side of the river, then pulling the sword out. They figured the vampire would have to stay under the tarpaulin as long as the sun was up to avoid dying, and then would be unable to cross the running water back into the cave that they were still exploring. A very creative plan! – I thought, and let them carry it out.

It was one of several clever things they did. I also gave their pregenerated characters a mixture of odd magic items that did weird and non-obviously-useful things, and they used several of these to interesting effect. So overall it was a good session.

New content today:

Double gaming: Root and D&D

No update on Friday because it was face-to-face board gaming night with my friends. I had four ethics classes, leading into departing to drive over to my friend’s place for the gaming. I was keen to try Root with more players, and with one of the regulars sidelined due to potential whooping cough exposure, I surveyed the likely attendees and found we had 4, the perfect number of players.

Then, a few minutes before I left, another friend said he was going to come too. So now we had 5, which wouldn’t work (without adding one of the optional expansions that allow more players, which I didn’t want to do as I haven’t read any of the rules of those yet). And then when I arrived, that last guy was just getting out of his car too. It turned out he brought a copy of Root as well! He said he’d bought it a while ago and had also been looking for a chance to play it with others.

We toyed with the idea of splitting into groups of 3 and 2 and playing two games, but I was the only one who knew all the rules. The guy who brought his own copy of the game said he’d be happy to watch and learn while the other four of us played a game, so that’s what we ended up doing. Our host made home-made pizzas for dinner and then we played.

The Cats raced to an early lead, as it seems they are wont to do. I was playing the Vagabond for the first time, after just having read its rules the day before. So I didn’t have a good grasp on my strategy, and I was helping the others with their moves to remind them of things they could do. The Eyrie crept up on the Cats and got to a point where they would have won the very next turn, but the rest of us managed to get them to go into Turmoil and the Eyrie lost 5 points, keeping them short of victory. Still, they would almost certainly win next turn. And then the Woodland Alliance stepped up. The player made some moves, said he couldn’t do much else, and then questioned what he could possibly craft from the cards in his hand. It turned out he had Sympathy in three mouse clearings, and had a “Favour of the Mice” card, which requires three mice to craft… and it removes all enemy pieces from all mouse clearings! This destroyed some 6 buildings, giving him 6 points, and victory in the game!

We finished the night with a game of For Sale, so the observer could play a game of 5 with us.

In other news, we had some work done in our garage on Friday. It’s in the basement of the apartment block, which is lit in the common areas, but the inside of our car space was very dark. Every time I wanted to go in there and store stuff or find stuff, I had to use a torch to see anything. It was really annoying. But a while back I noticed one of the other car spaces seemed to have a nice new light inside, motion controlled. So I wrote to the strata administrator and asked if we could have one of those installed as well, and they said yes. We have to pay a small installation cost, but the power comes from the communal fund. I was happy to pay the installation, and the work was done on Friday. So now we have a wonderful new light in our car space, and it’s great!

Saturday, I got up early and went straight for a 5k run, because my wife was taking Scully for a walk before heading out to the gym for a new dance class a bit later in the morning. I had my run completed and done my stretches before 08:00.

I used the rest of the morning for housework, cleaning the bathroom and shower, and then got stuck into prep work for tonight’s Dungeons & Dragons game at the local science shop. I had a one-shot dungeon to run, and wanted to make a bunch of pregenerated 3rd level characters. Last time I had 2nd level, so I just boosted their level by 1. Last time I’d printed out blank character sheets and written everything by hand. Of course some sheets ended up with player notes and doodles all over the, so I couldn’t really reuse those.

I thought I’d save myself some time in the long term by making Photoshop files of character sheets, with different layers representing the same character at different levels, so I can just switch them on and off and print out a version at any of a number of different levels, ready for play. It took me a bit of time to do this.

And then when I printed them I ran into a weird and annoying quirk of Photoshop. It saves the “number of copies” to print as part of the document. You save a new copy of the file to work on, do stuff, print it…. and it remembered that last time I printed 6 copies of the blank character sheet, so now I’d accidentally queued up to print 6 copies of each character when I only wanted 1 copy of each. I had to go into the print queue and delete all the jobs when I noticed (after 18 sheets came out of the printer).

The game went fairly well, with 4 players. But some of them were young and had to leave early, so we finished well before the shop closing time of 10pm, and didn’t get through as much of the dungeon as I hoped. Nevertheless, I shortcutted to the climax and they got to meet the God of Swords and ended up getting a super cool magical sword… with a horrible curse. And that was a suitable end to the evening.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

Saying bye to a long-time student

I had a bit of a sad moment today. A girl who has been doing my Outschool “Critical & Ethical Thinking” class for close to 2 years has unenrolled. A parent wrote to explain that they’re moving to the UK (from Korea) and the time zones don’t work out so well, so she can’t continue the class any more. But the parent was very pleased with the class and thanked me for my work in teaching their daughter. I remember this girl at the beginning was very reluctant to speak, and took a lot of time thinking of answers, but she’s improved enormously and is much more confident and outgoing now.

In another less-than-good thing, one of my Dungeons & Dragons players was exposed to whooping cough. He’s being tested, but said no matter what he wants to skip D&D this Friday to avoid any possibility of infecting people. he said he still wanted to play and asked if we could include him remotely. We’ve done this before with another player, but this one is our mapper, and I feel like interacting with him remotely while describing the adventure locations and having him try to draw them will be too clumsy. So I suggested we postpone the game a fortnight, and convene on 23 February. Everyone agreed to this, so I made an invitation:

Invitation graphic to D&D game

The weather was a bit warm today, but the real problem will come tonight as the forecast is that the temperature won’t drop below 25°C overnight, before heading into a scorcher tomorrow. That’s definitely too warm to be comfortable for sleeping, so we’re blasting the air conditioner to cool things down before bed time and hoping we’ll survive and not wake up too hot.

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Thinking about the future of sports (and D&D)

I spent most of my time today writing a class plan for this week’s new ethics/critical thinking topic: The Future of Sports. Some example text:

People have been playing sports for thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks held the first Olympic Games, which were originally competitions to see who could run fastest. Over time more events were added, such as discus throwing, wrestling, and chariot races. Chariot racing is an example of an ancient sport where technology is used. In modern times, sports have evolved into many different forms.

• What are some examples of how technology changed the way sports are played?
• How has technology changed the way sports are watched and managed?
• Has technology made sports better or worse? How?

Robotic technology is advancing rapidly. Soon we might have robots capable of playing sports as well as or better than humans.

• Would it make sense to have robots play sports against each other? Would humans watch it?

If robots could play sports as well as humans, we could have robot teams playing against human teams. Or teams with some human and some robot players.

• Could it be good if a human sports league has some robot players?
• What problems might robot athletes cause?

There’s more in between, about tech such as video replays, and modern equipment made of high-tech materials that may give athletes advantages, and so on. This is really much more a critical thinking topic than an ethics topic.

I spent a lot of the day writing this because I didn’t concentrate solidly on it, with a lot of interruptions for minor things. Lunch, walking Scully, goofing off browsing the Internet, pausing to read an Asterix book for the library, etc.

Something I realised today too: remember the new active defence combat system I was working on for D&D? I was thinking that it’d be easier to use the Armour Class as a score to roll under in order to successfully defend. But I realised today that if we use this system, then Armour Class has no other uses… it’s not necessary to record a character’s Armour Class at all. It can be completely replaced with defence scores for Block, Parry, and Evade. So why not turn them into a target to roll equal to or higher than? Then every roll in the game is the same – roll equal to or higher than a target number. So I think I’ll just do that.

(Bob P. commented on my original post that there might also be rolling low for saves, but no, I’m using the old fashioned Basic Rules saving throws, which are equal or beat a target number. So it’s all consistent.)

And switching topics again, for dinner tonight I did a “clear out the fridge of old ingredients”. Half a left-over pack of potato gnocchi, fried up with onion, celery, a chopped zucchini, some mushrooms, and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Add a bit of salt and pepper and garlic, and it turned out to be a delicious meal.

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Working on a new combat system for D&D

Today while doing my daily Italian practice, I learnt that in Italian you don’t walk in the rain (nella pioggia). The proper expression is that you walk under the rain (sotto la pioggia).

It was a busy day with ethics classes. Thursdays are still my busiest with 5. At lunch I walked with Scully up to the shops, though I had lunch at home and didn’t buy anything other than restocking some medication from the pharmacy. It was very windy and when I got into the area near the shops where there are London plane trees my hay fever went berserk. I didn’t stop sneezing until we walked halfway back home into an area with different types of trees.

This afternoon I worked on a new combat system for my Dungeons & Dragons game. I’ve been thinking for some time about making all combat dice rolls player-facing. This is a term meaning that the players make dice rolls instead of the Dungeon Master. To explain:

Normally in the D&D rules (specifically the Basic/Expert Set rules that we are using, from 1981), during combat the action proceeds as follows:

  • There is an initiative roll to determine which side acts first, the adventurers (played by the players) or the monsters (played by the DM). (I’m not messing with this bit; I mention it only for completeness.)
  • Let’s say the heroes go first. Each one chooses a monster to attack and makes a die roll to see if they hit it with their weapon. This die roll uses the armour class of the monster as a target number to roll. Roll equal to or higher than the number and you hit the monster. (Note: this is a variant “ascending armour class” system that differs from the canonical rulebook version in what numbers are used, but the result is statistically identical. Many modern players use this variant as the bookkeeping is somewhat easier.)
  • Now the monsters get their attack. The DM chooses which hero each monster attacks, and rolls dice for the monsters, trying to hit the target armour class number of the defending heroes. Note that this is essentially identical to what the players do when they are attacking, except now it’s the DM rolling dice.

The system I’m working on is identical in the first two points, but modifies the third one, the monster attack. Instead of the DM rolling dice for the monster attack, I want to change it so that instead it’s the player of the defending hero who rolls to defend themselves against the attack. This way, the players get to roll more dice (which is fun for them) and the DM doesn’t need to roll for the attack. The DM will still roll for damage if the player fails the defence roll.

I ran the numbers, and it works out statistically identical if a defending player needs to roll under their own armour class to defend successfully. I also converted it to a roll-equal-to-or-higher system, but this requires recording a “defence target” number for each hero (which is equal to 22 minus their armour class), so it adds another complication. Overall I prefer the simplicity of just using the armour class, even if it means for attacking requires rolling high while defending requires rolling low.

Now I have the basic system, I want to break up the defence into different types:

  • Block – you block the attack with a shield.
  • Parry – you parry the attack with a weapon.
  • Evade – you evade the attack by moving out of the way, or in such a way that the blow lands harmlessly on your armour.

I’m modifying these ideas from GURPS, with the intention that they will separate into different tactical choices. The base die roll chances will be the same, but may be modified – for example a dwarf character might get a bonus to blocking with a shield, and a penalty to parrying, while elves get the opposite. Some weapons might be better at parrying, but cause less damage (a rapier) or worse at parrying but inflict more damage (a 2-handed sword).

It’s still work in progress at this point, but I think I have the essentials of a workable system. I’ve discussed it with my players and I think we’ll try it in our next session, to see how it works in actual play. And then we’ll decide if it’s more fun than the old system.

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The Wyrm of Brandonstead, session 3

Friday night I ran the third and final session of our Wyrm of Brandonstead D&D adventure. The first two sessions are here and here for your recapping pleasure.

Return to Brandonstead

After retrieving Sir Brandon’s magical dragon-slaying sword from his tomb, the heroes returned to Brandonstead. Here they reunited with Brigette, who had travelled from Neensford after completing her training. The rest of the group filled her in on their adventures around Brandonstead so far.

Nogge experimented with the warning stones discovered in Sir Brandon’s tomb, to determine if they vibrate only when living creatures cross the perimeter or whenever something is within the area. He determined that anything inside the convex hull of the stones would set them off.

Notgandalf wanted to find someone to construct a grasping device that could hold his solidified eyeball at the end of his 10-foot pole when he uses his magical ring to pop it out of the socket. This would allow him to poke the eye around corners to spy out the terrain, without needing to roll it around unconstrained. Quinn at the Golden Egg Tavern suggested he go see Warwick the town smith.

Warwick and the Fairy

Warwick turned out to be a burly man, but rather simple-minded and superstitious. His workshop was covered with lucky charms: horseshoes, rabbits feet, clovers, which he’d nailed to all the walls. He said he could make Notgandalf an eyeball holder but it would take a couple of days and cost 20 silver coins. But he’d had problems sourcing metal for working, since the dwarves who traded with him hadn’t visited for a few weeks. He also said that a “fairy” has been harassing him, spying through his window at night. The charms are to keep it away, but he’s not sure they’re working. Sometimes the fairy leaves flowers on his windowsill.

The heroes decided to stake out the smithy overnight and see if they could catch the fairy visitor. Nogge wanted some sleep to heal minor wounds, but was interrupted around midnight by the warning stones he’d set up near Warwick’s window. Brigette spotted a human-sized shape in a cloak approaching the smithy, but the figure bolted into the trees when the warning stones went off. Brigette chased and the figure, who stopped and removed her hood to reveal Ingrid, the town’s alchemist who they’d met before. Brigette and Nogge questioned her about why she’s spying on Warwick.

Nogge: “I’m not going to be surprised by anything you say about Warwick.”
Ingrid: “I’m in love with him.”
Nogge: “Okay, I’m a bit surprised.”

Given Warwick’s simple-minded obliviousness, and Ingrid’s nervous shyness, it’s clear any potential romance is doomed to be awkwardly difficult. The heroes suggested Ingrid write Warwick a note rather than spy on him, but she pointed out he can’t read. They said they would talk to Warwick and told Ingrid to go home. The next morning they talked with Warwick and asked what he thought about Ingrid. He said he thought she might be a witch, but the heroes assured him she wasn’t, and suggested he go talk to her.

Seeking the Dragon

That morning the heroes set out to try to find the dragon, now they had Sir Brandon’s sword. Brother Leonardo decided he had chores to do in the village, so stayed behind. The retainers Tarlan (cleric) and Fingers (thief) and a few others followed the heroes.

Following the path north along the river, they caught up to two men also heading north, a short fat one carrying a pitchfork and a tall one carrying a net and with a dead pig slung over his shoulder. The heroes caught up to the men and chatted with them. They were Tad (short, fat, only 4 teeth) and Zach (tall, big Adam’s apple). They explained in simple yokel language that they were going to use the pig to lure the dragon out, then toss the net over it to catch it.

Nogge: “They could make decent bait themselves…”

After some aside discussion, the group decided to let Tad and Zach try their plan, while they followed from a discreet distance and observed. And if the dragon really appeared, they could decide what to do then. After all, the dragon might have some trouble dealing with them.

Drashi: “I don’t think it’s going to have much trouble with a dead pig.”

Tad and Zach stopped at a spot close to the foothills of the mountains and staked the pig out near the eastern river bank, then took cover in the bushes nearby to watch. The heroes stayed about 100 metres south, hidden in the trees. A breeze was blowing south out of the mountains, so they were downwind of the dead pig, which they thought was sensible as the dragon would not smell them. Nogge decided to try to get some sleep while the rest watched throughout the day.

Mid-afternoon there was a commotion across the river, and the watchers spotted four goblins emerging towards the river, chatting, singing, and generally acting half drunk. They had short swords and ill-fitting armour. The group roused Nogge, who again failed to get a solid healing sleep. One of the goblins spotted the pig on the other river bank and they began wading across the river. Garamond loosed an arrow, which found its mark in the lead goblin’s chest. As it slumped dead in the river, the other goblins panicked and fled back into the western forest. Notgandalf tossed a dagger as well, but it splashed into the river.

Tad and Zach confronted the heroes, accusing them of wanting to steal their dragon. They calmed the brothers down and decided to head to the northern side of their stake-out. Once out of view, they resumed their surveillance from a distance. Now they were upwind of the dead pig.

The Dragon

No more events occurred until after sunset. Nogge tried again to get a full sleep, but was roused around midnight when a slithering, slobbering, snuffling sound carried across to them from the western forest. Emerging from the trees was a large crocodile-shaped creature, 10 metres long, low slung and heavy on the ground. Its mouth glowed with a sickly yellow light and tendrils of smoke drifted from its nostrils and slavering jaws.

The Dragon crossed the river and went for the dead pig. Garamond began sneaking up through the cover of the trees. Tad and Zach rushed out brandishing pitchfork and net, but the dragon breathed a cloud of yellowish smoke at them and they began choking. Zach fell where he stood, while Tad raced to the river to wash away the noxious fumes and rinse out his throat.

Garamond charged the dragon with the Sword of Sir Brandon! The magic sword found its mark, puncturing the dragon’s side. Drashi also hit and Notgandalf loosed a magic missile. The dragon clawed at Garamond, raking its talons down his side, and lashed with its jaws at Drashi. Brigette joined combat and Notgandalf hit it with another magic missile. Nogge got a hit in, before Garamond skewered Sir Brandon’s sword through its mouth and up into its skull, vanquishing the fell beast.

Tarlan raced over to provide magical healing to Zach, saving his life. As everyone watched, the dragon’s scales fell off and its body dissolved into pools of acidic slime. Amidst the ooze were not dragon bones, but the skeleton of a dwarf! The heroes collected the bones, and then discussed with Tad and Zach, reinforcing the narrative that they had, in fact, slain a dragon, even without the ability to bring the dragon’s head back to town.

Confirmation and reward

The party, with Tad and Zach, returned to Brandonstead. They went to the Clumsy Fox Tavern to seek out Eric the village Reeve, who was relaxing there. They related their story, including that the dragon dissolved when dead. They suggested that Eric accompany them north the next morning to see the dragon-stained grass by the river to confirm their story. Bentley, owner of the Clumsy Fox, complained that he’d been having trouble with someone stealing his best booze from his cellar.

Next morning, they set out with Eric the Reeve and Lady Hilda, the captain of the village guard. They reached the spot where the dragon had died, seeing the large area of grass burnt by the acidic slime. Eric accepted this as evidence and promised the heroes their reward when they returned to town.

But the party wanted to search for the missing dwarves, and so parted ways with Eric and Hilda, who returned to the village. The party crossed the river and followed the dissolved vegetation of the dragon trail through the forest, coming across a collapsed log cabin near a hillside with a mine entrance. Digging through the ruins of the cabin, they found a mining pick with the name Grimni carved on the blade, and a silver dwarven beard comb. They then found the body of a dwarf, wearing a ring.

Investigating the mine entrance revealed a collapsed cave-in just inside the entrance. Brigette and Drashi used their dwarven skills to shore up the roof and excavate a bit, finding another dwarven body. This one was holding a pick engraved with the name Kedri.

The party decided to follow the dragon tracks further west, leading them to a cave in the base of the mountains, surrounded by blackened and dead vegetation. Investigating, they found the cave to be a simple chamber containing the dragon’s hoard! Around 2000 gold coins, 6 golden rings, most still on severed fingers and hands. Garnet earrings, still attached to a rotting human head. A carved stone skull with red gemstone eyes. And a magnificent cutlass decorated with gems of different shades of blue. The group collected the treasure and began hauling it back to Brandonstead.

Character moments

  • Brigette – Chasing down Ingrid the alchemist through the midnight forest outside Warwick’s smithy.
  • Drashi – .
  • Garamond – Slaying the dragon with Sir Brandon’s magical sword.
  • Nogge – Playing with warning stones. Suggesting Tad and Zach would make good dragon bait.
  • Notgandalf – Commissioning an eyeball holder for his 10-foot pole. Two magic missiles on the dragon.


  • Ring from dead dwarf – magical.
  • 2000 gold coins
  • 6 golden rings – estimated value 10gp each.
  • Garnet earrings – estimated value 140gp.
  • Stone skull with red gemstone eyes – estimated value 250gp.
  • Blue gem decorated cutlass – magical, Drashi.

This pretty much wraps up this adventure, so I’m planning the next one now! There are a few loose threads, but nothing major, and I think we’ll address those pretty quickly at the start of the next session before launching into a new adventure.

At the game, we had a feast on Greek chicken and lamb with pita bread, because my wife’s work had a lunch function which was – as is always the case at these things – heavily over-catered, and so she brought home two big boxes of food.

Today (Saturday) was hot again, 35°C. Scully had her pre-Christmas groom, and my wife had the groomer cut her har a lot shorter than we normally do, because of the hot weather. I spent some time shuttling them both around in the car to avoid walking around in the heat of the day. But we all went for a walk together in the evening as the sun was setting, which was much nicer.

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Early morning birding

I forgot to mention yesterday: In the morning I usually take Scully on a walk and yesterday I took her on a longer one to avoid doing a big walk in the heat of the middle of the day. We went by the harbour shore, and for the first time in a while I did a bird count using eBird. Normally when I do this around this area, I can accumulate about 10 species observed. But yesterday I managed to find 18 different species, which is notably high. Sometimes I get 14 or 15, but 18 is close to a record for a single observation near my home. I won’t reproduce the list, because you can see it on eBird here. Looking for birds early in the morning definitely helps, as they are harder to find in the heat of the day. And summer means the Pacific koels are around (they migrate north for the winter). There are also channel-billed cuckoos, which have been around lately, but I didn’t happen to see any yesterday.

Today I dropped Scully at doggie daycare in the morning, and then I went to my dentist for a regular cleaning and dental hygiene appointment. The hygienist was pretty happy with my teeth and there were no concerns, so that’s good. Afterwards I celebrated with a roasted vegetable pie for lunch from the nearby pie shop.

Being out without walking Scully, I took the chance to drop into the brand new library that opened up not long ago in a new development nearby. It’s a branch of another library that I’m a member of, but when I showed them my card they said it had expired. I wasn’t on their system at all! I guess this goes to show what the Internet has done. I used to borrow books frequently, but of course that dropped off some years back. And… this isn’t the first time that my card has expired through lack of use! Some years ago I went into the library and tried to borrow some books only to be told my card had expired. I feel kind of embarrassed that this has happened to me twice now!

I’m also getting ready for the next Dungeons & Dragons game, which I’ll be running for my friends on Friday evening. It should be the climax of the current adventure (which started with rumours of the return of a dragon and continued with the party recovering a legendary dragon-slaying sword…), so hopefully lots of drama and fun!

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