Under the Hill

so tired…

Review: Doctor Who – S5E1 – The Eleventh Hour

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Doctor: Alright, we are save, you wanna know why? She sent for backup!

Emilia: I didn’t send for backup!
Doctor: I know, that was a clever lie to save our lives. Okay, yeah, NO backup, and that’s why we’re save as long as we don’t threaten you. If we HAD backup then you’d had to kill us.

Booming Voice: Attention Prisoner Zero! The Human Residence is surrounded! Attention Prisoner Zero! The Human Residence is surrounded!

Emilia: What’s that?

Doctor: Well, that would be backup. (to alien) Okay, one more time! We do have backup! And that’s definitely why we are save.

Booming Voice: Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.

Doctor: Well, save for, well, you know, incineration.

David Tennant was in his best moments a truly brilliant choice for the Doctor. I think there is no arguing about that. And Russel T. Davies was a wonderful producer, able to make the series into something special again. Nevertheless the last few episodes both seemed to be crushed by their success, the half-season of specials we got treated with the last year was good, but not overwhelmingly so, and the 10th Docter seemed to become more and more unstable and unlikeable as time progressed. Even if it progressed in a rather wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey sort of way. One could say that the show started to be more navelgazing than storytelling when the big finale came around.
It is too early to say if Stephen Moffat will do it better, now that he has taken over as producer. All the episodes he did in the series so far were brilliant, but those were individual episodes, not a whole series.
Me, I just watched the first episode of the new series.
I now could make it easy for myself and just tell you the new series is brilliant. But I won’t. There are another 12 episodes to go, but it does look promising at least.
On the other hand: if they keep it around the quality of that first episode it certainly will be an entertaining ride.

Spoilers after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by G. Neuner

4. April 2010 at 4:09 am

Witches and Warlocks in my campaign

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I love the simplicity of the Labyrinth Lord rules, and by extension those of the D&D rulesets they are based on. So it might be kind of a bad habit that I already have all those nice ideas how to improve on it without the campaign having even started yet. During the last few days I was thinking about the basics of that campaign. I want my players to come up with some stuff in play, so I really want to keep it at some very basic level. One thing I wanted to have though is a society/group of witches and warlocks.
So I was about halfway through thinking about that society when I noticed that I was starting to think of them as a distinct class. Something not quite magic-user and not quite cleric. Which is, I guess, one of the first ideas anybody ever comes up with when creating new characters. And for some reason none of the classes people came up with the last thirty years actually stuck. Even though people for sure tried. The Witch was even the main example given in the 3rd Edition Dungeon Masters Guide on how to create a new class.  A rather playable witch, for sure, but did anybody ever, well, use that class? Or even think about it after reading through the guide for the first, or second, or even 20th time?
That got me thinking: what exactly is it that makes a witch and warlock something completely different than the magic-user? Not that much actually. For some reason the character we most often come up with when thinking about the magic-user seems to be the Gandalf archetype. Some old mage with a hat and a staff.(And yes, I know that Gandalf basically didn’t really do that much magic, he still is the archetype though!)

Even the rulebooks seem to go for that most of the time. If it’s not Gandalf it’s either the enchantress (think Circe), the young and dynamic mage (think Dr. Strange), or even the fat and clumsy Discworld mage (Pratchett might be a parodist, but the archetypes he uses ring tabsolutely true).
On the other hand we  should really be thinking of the classes in the game as something more basic I guess. A wizard is a magic-user. But so is a summoner, an enchanter, a necromancer. And a witch.
These specialists were of course detailed in later editions, all of them specialists with maybe a limited set of spells, but more power in what they were good in. That’s one way to do it I guess. But I’m not sure that I really want to give up the catch-all magic-user for that.
On the other hand, what is it exactly that I want from such a class? I mostly would like to give it a certain flavor with some of it’s spells. I would like to make my campaign’s witches and warlocks something sinister and occult and downright scary, so I would give them a combination of mostly necromancy and nature spells. Both areas actually kind of fit together if one thinks about it. Death always is part of nature.

And I would like them to be able to curse somebody.
That is atually an idea which I, again, kind if gleamed from DSA: “cursing in hot blood”. Now I don’t know exactly how that was solved in the earlier editions of good old DSA, I really was only using the very most basic starter rules of 1st and 3rd edition, and then later the arcane complete ruleset that was 4th edition.

The basic idea is that if a witch is enraged enough (her blood is boiling so to speak) she can, with less effort than usual, put a curse on somebody. Think about this: a witch gets driven out of a village by the local populace, she is furios as hell and curses the town. So all the crops around her start to wither and die. Or the local watersource gets spoiled.
That basically is the idea I had, and I guess it’s actually pretty easy to do if one takes into account that old rule about clerics: They can drop a spell they prayed for and replace it with a healing spell if they need it. Now let’s see…

Cursing in hot blood: If enraged enough by something/someone the magic-user can drop any spell he learned for the day and replace it with one from the list of curses. The curse must be of the same or lower level.

A special list of curses would have to be written for that sort of thing. A list of spells to use  in case of cursing.

It might be a bit overpowered though.

Actually no, it for sure would be overpowered. Especially in mid-level range the ability to just drop and replace spells might be a complete gamebreaker.
So how to concile this one special ability with the magic-user without totally debasing it from the coherent class system?
The solution I came up with so far would be even more in tone with the class: a corruption table. One does not wield wild magic like that without the magic doing something to one’s self. Maybe some madness?  Maybe some physical corruption?

I’m not really happy with it so far. I don’t really want to drag out the Mutant Future mutation table. That would be overdoing it a bit. But I would like my witches to have that ability to curse someone.

Written by G. Neuner

2. March 2010 at 4:39 pm

Why is swearing in German so damn hard?

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The new Wonderella comic actually manages to get German swearing right. Consider me impressed. It’s only one word, but seeing how many non-German writers ever manage anything close, it is quite an achievement.

I always wondered about that: Not really that many people seem to know even the most basic swear words in German, even though everybody knows some in Spanish or French. Which is even worse because Germans are… well… potty-mouthed would be lacking as a description.

We hardly go by in any talk without using words that would cause an uproar in American media.¹ I guess there is a bit of a cultural thing going on here, together with some linguistical quirk. You know, swear words are not swearing in German. So even from a deeply Christian point of view (which often is used against it in English speaking countries, the “No Swearing” commandment in the Bible) if we are using foul language it’s not actually touching any religious feelings in most cases. There are some words like “gottverdammt” (god damn it) which would be, but those hardly are the morst poignant or popular ones. They actually are considered quite mild.

Of course it is the most deeply catholic part of Germany (southern Bavaria) which loves to use these words in speech. On the other hand this is considered ethnical identity nowadays (everybody EXPECTS them to behave like that), so they actually get free passes on insult charges if they use those. Seriously. Using bad language is part of the Bavarian national identity.

So, why is it actually so hard to get a few words right? We swear all the time. And yet every time there are some aggravated Germans in any medium it’s always “Schweinhund”. Even worse writers don’t seem to notice that this the word is not even grammatically correct. (it would be “Schweinehund”). But yeah, I know… German is hard

No, that word is not really used in German that much. Actually, it’s not used at all. One could say it’s one of the aforementioned Bavarian quirks. It could be used to insult, but generally it’s more used as an endearment.

Yes. I know how weird that sounds.

I might sound strange but sometimes I just wish people would take one or two minutes to actually research their stuff. It’s not that hard! the thing is just, every single time “Germans” appear on the screen in foreign media they might be presented badly, they might be assholes and Nazis (and for some strange reason they’re also all blonde), but I just can’t see them as Germans. I’m not even insulted by presentations of Germans anymore. I don’t understand the most basic sentences they wharrgarrbl on the screen (because it is so hard to find any German to write you a few basic sentences for your multi-million dollar script…), I don’t even recognize their most basic utterances. They are from some mythical quasi-European country with a language that sounds sorta like Dutch.

Just without any proper “ch” in there…


¹ to be fair: America is a nation that STILL talks about seeing one nipple for a split-second SIX YEARS AGO,but they do have the world’s largest porn industry

Written by G. Neuner

27. February 2010 at 6:35 pm

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Under Oak Hill – New Creatures

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These monsters were used (without stats) in Under Oak Hill. The One-Page-Dungeon-Contest rules demand the submitted dungeon is not to have any stats, but I was (obviously) using monsters which did not appear in the Labyrinth Lord book (or any other book I know of).

The Imp has meanwhile been presented marginally different in the Advanced Edition Characters book for Labyrinth Lord. Not too surprising, they, as I, just converted from the SRD… So here they are, not really the most brilliant of new monsters, but keeping with the atmosphere I desired. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by G. Neuner

26. February 2010 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Games, Roleplaying

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Fare dodging is one of these small offenses that many people in Germany don’t find that bad at all. All excuses aside (and there are a lot of them around, everybody always tries to reason away this actually being wrong…) the reason for the increased amount of fare dodgers might come with the insane amount of money privatized public transport is demanding lately.

So of course some people get a bit creative when trying to dodge fares without getting punished for that. One case that has just gotten out of courts actually had a fascinating reasoning behind it: the legal terminology for dodging fares in German law is “Leistungserscheichung” which might be translated as “obtaining something surreptitiously”.

Now everybody always was kind of sure that meant any kind of fare dodging. After all, if you were going to dodge a fare, was there any way but doing it, well, in secret? Surreptitiously as the dictionary says?

Turns out yes, technically there is a way: Seeking refuge in audacity. Tell the conductor beforehand that you are going to go without a ticket. Show openly that you are not paying and still ride the train.

That theory was put to test in court a few days ago. One guy decided to try the idea and rode on the subway wearing a t-shirt saying “Ich fahre schwarz” (I’m fare dodging). And then tried to take it to the court when he got caught.

He lost though. The nice idea aside, the court said, but just wearing the shirt was not enough (the conductors said they didn’t even notice it), but he would have had to tell the ticket vendor at the station AND the conductor when he boarded the train. Then of course he could have used the train without paying the fare. If both of them had let him do that at least. Which they were pretty unlikely to do.

So the reasoning obviously was valid (he would have been allowed to ride without paying IF only…) but the execution was flawed.

Written by G. Neuner

26. February 2010 at 12:21 am

Posted in Odd, Travel

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Under Oak Hill

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My entry for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2010: A small module taking a group of low to mid-level characters through a cave system. I noticed during writing this little dungeon how used I am, as a referee,still thinking in DSA’s terms. Where others would have put in a lot of weird and uncommon monsters more, my enemies are a bit more mundane; if one can call undead bears mundane… (also the sheer mass of creatures is showing the D&D).

This design paradigm is normal for The Dark Eye, as most gamemasters notice pretty soon how hard it is to write extraordinary creatures and plots without completely breaking the whole setting. I kept myself mostly to usual fantasy fare with the monsters in that module. A few were not in the Labyrinth Lord basic rules (which I used as reference); that won’t matter, I will post writeups on those the next few days.

The map was created with Dungeon Crafter v1.4.1 (the free one), then finished off in GIMP. I noticed that at least when using it under WINE I cannot turn tiles in Dungeon Crafter, or even save a map, for reasons unknown, so the mapping took longer than I planned and still is lacking something. Anybody got a better mapper that’s also usable on a Linux system?

Update: Feb 26. 2010 – replaced download link with slightly corrected version

Download: Under Oak Hill

Related: New Creatures

Written by G. Neuner

25. February 2010 at 2:17 pm

The Art of Dungeoncraft

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I should be doing something entirely else really. Actually I should be finishing the last few things for my MA. But what do I do? Writing an One Page Dungeon.
For the uninitiated: dungeons are the natural habitat of player characters and monsters. For some reason the best and easiest setting to set roleplaying games in was and is an underground lair or something like that. Room after room of monsters, treasures, and traps. Yay! Adventure! Moria for all!
For some reason RPGs never really managed to get away from those. And in many cases they never really tried. (there is a reason the most famous RPG is called Dungeons&Dragons…)
Retroclones, as mentioned before, try to emulate a lot of those old times, and dungeons are a big part of that.
So it comes as kind of a surprise that they, with that, actually are embracing a special sort dungeons, treating dungeons as a sort of art form: dungeons limited to one page only, with map and everything.¹

How much story and adventure can one relate on only one page?

A lot.
Building a dungeon becomes minimalistic art: short sentences, only the most needed of comments, and the dungeon’s map as part of this storytelling. Is it a 70s style TSR-blue dungeon? Is it handdrawn? What’s on the map, what isn’t? And so these dungeons can range from bad to good, and sometimes they move into sheer excellency (look at this guys OPDs for example!).
So why the sudden interest in this kind of dungeon? The One Page Dungeon Contest 2010 has it’s submission date this weekend, and I want to take part. I would have liked to playtest the dungeon before handing it in, but well, that will have to wait until next week or so.


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Written by G. Neuner

25. February 2010 at 6:07 am

Serial Numbers Filed Off

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Labyrinth Lord is original Dungeons and Dragons with serial numbers filed off. It seems that Wizards of the Coast, by open sourcing their game mechanics in the early 2000s, also opened them up to be retrocloned to older rulesets that were not part of the original deal. And so LL has nearly everything a group needs to play as if it was 1977. The word is “retrogaming“, and it has been rather popular lately, mostly carried by guys who have been D&D/RPG players in the first years of the hobby. And there is more to that little part of the hobby than only Labyrinth Lord with it’s evocation of 1970s/80s fanzine quality. Sword&Wizardry tries to evoke the aura of even earlier sets of D&D, OSRIC tries to be AD&D 1st ed., Mutant Future tries to be Gamma World.

Now, I’m obviously not part of that age group that seems to be so fascinated by those old-school games. Not as much as those people in their 40s and 50s are who played D&D back when it was fresh and new. I’m not even close to that. My first experience with roleplaying games came in the mid-90s with Germany’s very own “Das Schwarze Auge” (The Dark Eye), although I can relate to them desiring simpler and faster rules than what is current now. The new version of D&D (4th edition) appears to me a as a bloated, overdone try to rip off World of Warcraft. Even the 3rd edition, which I used for a long time and had lots of fun with, always appeared to me as overly complicated. Maybe the reason for that was that the first time I played DSA back then I was using the Beginner¹ rules, which were the rules of it’s 1st edition: fast, easy, and a lot of fun. They had their very own problems. but I never lost the feeling that roleplaying games should be played like that: fast and loose, story over rules, a quick decision in favor of hour long battles.

On the other hand there is a certain dogmatism in the retrogaming community: as much fun as playing the old games just like they were played 30 years back might be, many of those adherents to the old school also want something else: reliving the old days. And so they try to simulate the old times as closely as possible.

Why am I putting that much thought into this? Because I plan to use LL for some games, that’s why. it turns out that there are a few people  interested in playing pen&paper roleplaying games. I haven’t really played for years now, but let’s see if I still got it…


¹ and lo! there actually is a retroclone of those rules as well, in English even…

Written by G. Neuner

24. February 2010 at 6:17 pm

Flashcards and Fitness

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“Two days ago I discovered something that stunned me: Using Anki WHILE walking on my treadmill was enjoyable. I easily did it for an hour and the next day (yesterday) did it for an hour again. The time goes by quickly. Two boring activities, done together, became pleasant. Anki alone I can do maybe ten minutes. Treadmill alone I can do only a few minutes before I want to stop. In both cases I’d have to be pushed to do it at all. Yet the combination I want to do; 60 minutes feels like a good length of time.”Seth Roberts

I think Seth might be onto something with that. I noticed that while I can’t stand listening to audiobooks anymore (it was different when I was a kid), during long travels I actually enjoy listening to audio lectures even on topics that do not really interest me (and those topics normally are a bit weird because there are not that many free online classes available to download and listen to).
I dislike sitting in some of my lectures because the topics don’t interest me at all, yet I cherish listening to lectures about rhetoric when travelling between Poland and Germany? It’s weird, isn’t it?

I too should try using flashcards when working out next time. Actually I should try working out again…

Written by G. Neuner

24. February 2010 at 2:24 am

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Using CBR/CBZ in the Humanities

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cropFor quite a while now I have been bothered by the tendency of pages making available handwritten documents online, to scatter the pages of those said documents all across their websites. While it is nice and quite wonderful that those things are online at all, and while those things certainly help a lot in accessing at least facsimiles of original documents and manuscripts, the act of organizing those said pages are getting quite painful. Especially when having to deal with loads of different pages, as one often does when examining handwritten letters in greater detail.

Until now I have been neatly organizing those manuscripts that I needed to take a look at into folders and subfolders. At least I have been trying to. It is a kind of tedious process that always seemed a bit too bothersome to me to be taken for granted. Still, there seemed to be no alternative to that problem lately, while I always figured that reading those letters in one single file might be a bt more comfortable, the most obvious of alternatives to the bunch of multiple .jpgs  would have been the everpresent .pdf file format. A wonderful format in my opinion, only very unpleasant to use for larger series of pictures: When used as a way to present facsimiles of graphics and pictures pdfs tend to become uneccessary large and bulky, lose the ability to interact with the pictures inside more directly (like cutting and copying parts of pictures) and are very limited to navigate. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by G. Neuner

11. June 2009 at 4:43 pm