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:

A new vanilla slice

My Snot Block & Roll food review blog has languished a bit since the COVID pandemic, but today I finally managed to find a new vanilla slice from a bakery I haven’t visited before. We felt like going out for a bit of a drive for afternoon tea today, since it was hot and humid and not good weather for taking Scully for a walk. I checked Google Maps and found a bakery not too far away and we headed over.

Biga Artisan Bakery

When we got there, they had vanilla slices and they looked decent, so I decided to get one. It was pretty good, though with one caveat. You can read the full review here.

After we got home, I played another game of Root with my wife. This time we used one of the automated “robot” factions to add a third opponent to the mix. We used the Mechanical Marquise, I played the Eyrie, and my wife played Woodland Alliance for the first time. The robot factions have variable difficulty levels, and we used the default, which is the second highest from (easy, default, difficult, nightmare). It didn’t pose much of a problem for us, though I suspect part of that was caused by some bad luck with the robot Marquise drawing three mouse cards in a row, which really limited its ability to attack and damage us. My wife won in the end, running away with spreading sympathy throughout the robot player’s territory without much opposition.

Root with Mechanical Marquise

I spent much of the morning doing house chores. I vacuumed and then emptied water from all the moisture absorbers in all the closets and storage areas, including the cabinets in the garage, and refilled them with dry calcium chloride crystals. It’s astonishing the amount of water these things have been sucking out of the air in the recent high humidity. Definitely better doing this than getting mould.

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:

Asking Why?

I did the first three classes on the new “Why?” topic this evening. They went well, but I think it’s a bit of a brain-bender for some of the kids. It’s clear some of these concepts are things they’ve really never thought about or considered before. I had mostly kids on the high end of my age range tonight. I may need to simplify things a bit when I have classes with kids on the low age end.

Today I played another solo game of Root, with the same three factions as yesterday. This time I made sure to harry the Eyrie a bit more, with both the Cats and the Woodland Alliance, and that prevented the birds from winning, allowing the Cats to claim victory. The Alliance did a bit worse than yesterday, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of their tactics.

Root game

Not much else today. I took Scully on a long walk past the harbour shore in the morning. I made red curry broccoli and carrot with rice for dinner. Oh, I got some rye flour for sourdough – I ran out ages ago and haven’t done a rye loaf for a long time. I’m baking one right now as I type.

New content today:

A solo game of Root

It rained heavily overnight and cooled things down so today was much more pleasant than the past couple of days, although still a bit humid. I managed to go for a 5k run in the evening after my wife got home.

In the morning I worked on my ethics class material for this week, finishing off the lesson plan for the “Why?” topic.

And in the afternoon I played a game of Root. I’ve been keen to try it with three factions as I continue learning the game, so I decided to do a solo game where I play the Marquisate de Cat, the Eyrie Dynasties, and the Woodland Alliance, trying to compartmentalise my brain so I can play all three in sequence. I took photos of the game at setup, and then after each round of one turn for each faction.

Game of Root

I’ve marked the Cat movements in orange, Eyrie in blue, and I’ve added green circles to show clearings with sympathy for the Woodland Alliance. THere was some very interesting back and forth, and the game ended very tight, with the Eyrie winning, but both the Alliance and the Cats poised to reach the required 30 points on their next turns. In hindsight I think I played the Cats a bit too passive and they should have attacked more. And the Eyrie managed to make it to the end without suffering Turmoil at all, probably because the Cats and Alliance were busy antagonising each other and neither made much effort to check the growth of the Eyrie.

It was pretty fun doing this! I’m inclined to try it again, although it would be great to get this to one of our in-person board game nights and get a proper competitive game with my friends.

New content today:

Double games days

Friday was online games night with friends and I didn’t have time to write a blog post because it was a busy day.

First thing in the morning was grocery pickup and shopping. I order online, but always select my own fruit and vegetables right before picking up all the other ordered stuff. Back home, I’d moved my first ethics class of the day 10 minutes earlier because I had another Zoom meeting starting at the exact finish time, and I needed some slop time in between because the classes always go a little bit over.

Friday: STEM Professionals in Schools teaching

The Zoom meeting was with a teacher at Loreto Kirribilli, a girls’ school not too far from where I live. This is a new school that I’m setting up a partnership with to replace Brookvale Public, where I’d been doing the CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools program since 2012. It was good there, but (a) it was a long drive to get there, (b) I had to stop visiting the school during COVID, and (c) the contact teacher there since moved to a new school, so I basically lost tough with them. CSIRO contacted me last year to ask my status and I told them that, so they organised a new school for me.

I spoke to the school’s gifted & talented program organiser, who told me about the various programs they have there for out-of-curriculum enrichment and learning. She suggested the best introduction would be to give one of the Learning@Lunchtime talks – these are weekly talks on Fridays at school lunchtime, given by external visitors, on a wide range of topics. They advertise the speaker and topic, and any interested students can turn up and listen to the talk while eating lunch. She said they get any number from 5 to 50 students, depending on the topic (and the weather!). She sent me free dates afterwards and I said I could do one of these talks on 23 February.

After the talk, she said we could have a chat, and introduce me to the school’s science coordinator, to organise an ongoing mentorship of some students. They have external mentors come to the school at intervals convenient for the visitor—anything from weekly to once a year—and meet with a small group of students with an interest in whatever the mentor is an expert in. She said they don’t do it just for STEM topics; they had an executive from Qantas who came in and had “business lunches” with students and they all talked about business stuff. Anyway, she asked what sort of ages I’d like to work with, since they cover the gamut from Kindergarten to Year 12, and I said I’d spent my tie at Brookvale working with K-6 kids, and would like to work with older students so we could do more advanced stuff. She said she might have a small group of Year 10 students who might be suitable. But that will be sorted when we chat after the initial lunchtime talk.

Following this meeting I had lunch and took Scully for a quick walk before getting into three ethics classes in a row in the afternoon. After that my wife and I relaxed by going up to our favourite pizza place for dinner. And then back home afterwards I played online board games with friends.

Friday: Online board games

We played a game of Wingspan, and discovered that it seemed to drag a bit in the online version, because the UI enforced us taking turns sequentially, whereas when we play in person we often start our moves, and say we’re doing stuff that doesn’t interact with anyone else, and the next person can start their move. And manipulating the physical cards and components seems to flow faster than clicking a screen UI. So we were a bit tired of it by the end. But despite thinking I was doing poorly throughout the game, I somehow ended up winning, so it wasn’t a total loss!

After that we played a game of Just One. We use a bot implementation that one of my friends wrote for our Discord server. It has a much wider selection of words to guess than the official version. There was an amusing incident with two of the words.

Briefly, the game involves rounds where one person has to guess a mystery word. The word is revealed to all the other players, and they have to submit a one-word clue – e.g. if the mystery word is “banana” the clues might be “fruit”, “yellow”, “lounge”, etc. Ideally all the clues are different and the guesser has a lot to work with to get the right answer. But if multiple people give the same clue, they are eliminated and the guesser gets fewer clues. it’s cooperative, so we’re all trying to be helpful and give the guesser as many good clues as possible – but the elimination thing means it’s risky to give the most obvious clues in case someone else does the same.

Anyway, one word was “celery”. One person clued “stick” and two of us gave “waldorf”, which was eliminated. So the poor guesser had to guess based on the single clue “stick”, and ended up guessing “carrot”.

Then the next mystery word, chosen at random from a list of hundreds, was “carrot”!! Three of us suppressed laughter and gave clues, while the guesser had no idea what was happening. It turned out two of us clued “stick” (referencing the previous round!) and one clued “root”. So the guesser only got to see the clue “root”. And said, “Haha, wouldn’t it be funny if it was carrot?” And not having anything better to guess, he guessed carrot, and we all burst into laughter as he got it right!

Saturday morning

I slept in a bit, got up, had breakfast, and went for a 5k run. This was my first since Australia Day, eight days ago, as I felt my sore ankle needed a bit more time off. It felt a lot better today, and I clocked 28:14, exactly the same time as that last run. The conditions were a bit warm and humid.

After a shower I had to drive down to the local farmer’s market to pick up a home-made chocolate cake that my wife had bought there at one of the stalls. She’d walked down with Scully and wanted to walk back, but not carrying a cake. The cake was for afternoon tea with some of our friends, the ones who minded Scully the last few times we’ve been overseas. Last time they were in a temporary house while their own one was being renovated, but they moved back in at the end of November, and this was the first time we’ve visited since.

After lunch, we took Scully on a walk, and then drove over to our friends’ place for afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea games

Their updated house looked good! No structural work, but they had a complete kitchen renovation, new carpets, the wooden floorboards in the kitchen and dining rooms had been sanded and polished and looked brand new, new paint throughout, and a bunch of new fittings like built-in wardrobes, insect screens, a new back door with doggy door for their dog, and so on.

We chatted for a bit and had some crackers and cheese, and then we played a couple of games. We started with Taluva, which I don’t think I’ve seen before. It’s a really clever tile-laying game, with tiles consisting of three adjoined hexes in a triangular shape. Each hex contains a volcano or one of a few different types of terrain. One your turn you draw a random tile, lay it on the expanding map, and then place one or more buildings according to some simple rules. The goal is to place more buildings than your opponents, and there’s priority for more difficult buildings, with temples outranking towers, outranking huts. The rules are very simple, but it has a lot of strategy to it and we really enjoyed it. My wife enjoyed it maybe more because she won!

Then we played Love Letter, which I’ve played before but my wife hadn’t. This is a simple game, but unpredictable and sometimes hilarious in the situations that can come up. My friend one this one.

We got back home about 6:30 pm and I made omelettes for dinner with the fresh zucchini flowers that my wife had also bought at this morning’s market. A busy but fun couple of days!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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New neighbours and old ankles

Friday was board games night at a friend’s place, so no post yesterday. I arrived just in time to join a game of The Guild of Merchant Explorers, which was new to me. It was a fun game of exploring across a personal hex map (each player had an identical map), establishing towns and trying to connect trade routes to earn coins. I liked it, but I ended up significantly behind everyone else, finishing with about 130 coins while all the other three players were within a few coins of each other around 150.

After this we played a game of Mysterium, at the medium difficulty level. I was going really well, guessing my character and location quickly, but I got stuck on the weapon, guessing wrong 3 times and ultimately being the only player not to correctly get all of my information! Being a cooperative game, that meant we all lost, alas.

Then we finished off with a game of Just One, which I’ve played a lot online, but never with the actual boxed game equipment. That went pretty well and we scored a lot of matches.

Another thing that happened is I met one of our new neighbours, who moved in this week. It’s an older couple, retiree age, and they’re from South Africa. I met the woman and she met Scully, and was delighted to meet her. She said that they had a Maltese terrier and a cat, but they are in quarantine after arriving from South Africa and wouldn’t be moving in until February. When they arrive we’ll have to make sure Scully meets the dog and becomes friendly.

Today I slept in a bit and then went for a 5k run in the relative cool of the morning. Unfortunately at one point I had to step off the footpath to go around a clump of pedestrians and I twisted my ankle on the grass. It wasn’t bad at the time and I finished the run, in better time than my last couple of runs. But through the day it’s gotten more sore and swelled up a little bit. I’ve started putting ice on it to reduce the swelling and inflammation. But I doubt I’ll be doing a run tomorrow. I can walk okay, and in fact we did a couple of long walks today with Scully, but I don’t want to risk running on it.

We went over to Naremburn after lunch for a sweet treat from the bakery – I got a cinnamon roll. And then we went out again for dinner, to a seafood restaurant that we really like. I had mahi-mahi, which was really nice.

I spent a few hours today refining an adventure for next Saturday’s Scum & Villainy game that I’ll be running at the local science shop. I’ve found a one-shot adventure outline for Blades in the Dark, and I’m reskinning it from fantasy to science fiction in the Star Wars setting. It’s coming along nicely, and hopefully should be a lot of fun.

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