Thursday, April 19, 2018

D1 Crown of the Kobold King Deconstructed

Crown of the Kobold King is sometimes considered a kind of mini Paizo classic—one of those modules that almost everyone who plays Paizo anything plays; kind of like how everyone played Keep on the Borderlands or The Sunless Citadel back in the day.  It follows closely on the heels of Hollow's Last Hope, and even takes place in some of the same locations.

The premise is pretty cliche; some kids are kidnapped by kobolds who want to sacrifice them to whatever kobolds make sacrifices to, and the PCs wander into town, hear the rumors, and presumably decide to go rescue them.  Another "Timmy fell in the well" adventure.  The PCs are meant to travel back to the dwarven monastery and dig a little deeper into it this time.

This part of the module is all about "Gathering Information"—finding out who the missing kids are and why they're missing, i.e., the dare that they made to go spend the night at the burned out shell of an old orphanage out of town, etc.  This includes finding rumors about the dwarven monastery, since the module makes no assumption that you've played Hollow's Last Hope.  If you have, you'll have to do your own work to integrate the two.

Presumably, the PCs will then investigate the site of the old orphanage, since they find out about the dare.  Investigation uncovers a trapdoor in the ruins, and inside is the corpse of the woman who ran the orphanage.  While I'm not certain how exactly the PCs would piece all of this together, apparently the narrative is that one of the recent orphans was turned into a werewolf when her parents were killed (by werewolves.) She was imprisoned below the orphanage while the headmistress ran an ill-advised program to "purge the beast"—what ended up happening, of course, was that she flipped, went Wolfy, killed everyone in the orphanage, and then set it on fire herself, before running off into the woods.  Really all that the PCs are likely to find out though is that there's a basement or cellar that looks like a torture chamber, some silver knives, and the body of the headmistress with her throat torn out (this was months ago, but I guess the body mummified or something.)  Oh, and there's a swarm of spiders to fight, and there's obvious clues (and an obvious trail) that kobolds attacked the camp of the missing kids.

The werewolf girl then appears and tries to ingratiate herself to the party before attacking them.  But that comes later.  In the meantime, if the PCs somehow missed the very obvious clues of the kids' camp and the signs of kobold struggle, and the trail to follow, the werewolf girl can offer to lead them in the right direction, as she's interested in rescuing the kids herself so she can eat them.  And then the PCs too.

So, the module gives a number of Darkmoon Vale encounters that can happen to liven up the journey from the ruins of the orphanage to the ruins of the monastery, including some that are just color.

  • disturbing crows
  • assassin vine
  • some bugbears arguing about how to eat a lumberjack (echoes of The Hobbit, a little bit.
  • Allips (a type of ghost)
  • the body of an adventurer, including an animated goblet the PCs have to fight as well as some other minor treasure.
  • an imp who was the familiar of a dead wizard.  He mostly just wants to pick the PCs pockets
  • a drunk giant who could easily kill the entire party, but he's drunk and looking for his lost wedding ring before he goes home and gets it from his wife, so there's a chance of either avoiding him entirely, or even helping him.
  • a harpy luring four lumberjacks to their death, unless the PCs stop it.
  • a manticore
The dungeon part of the adventure.  There's no mention of the worg threat dealt with in Hollow's Last Hope, and I haven't bothered to see if the location guides even correlate or not, since I don't particularly care about dungeon adventures.  They encounter some kobolds, a grick that camps out here looking for food, shocker lizards in a hot spring, what is meant to be presented as a ghost, but which actually turns out to be the indigestible armor of a dwarven adventurer suspended in a gelatinous cube, stirges, dire rats, a stupid stone trap that releases vargouilles, more traps, a leftover homunculus, an allip, etc.  There's a battle in the old mess hall between some kobolds and some of the captives who have escaped (including the leftovers of an ill-fated adventuring band and two of the missing kids.)

Anyway, there's more, including various undead, more kobolds, more traps, etc.  All stuff that any self-respecting cliche D&D dungeon adventure for low level characters would have.  

The next level down is more typical D&Dishness; more kobolds, a choker, a gargoyle, dire bats, etc. Some items that are at least nominally innovative; the kobold hatchery, and the giant saber-tioothed frogs that the kobolds ride on. There's a further level below this, but it's not detailed and it's assumed that the PCs can't (or won't) go down there, but there's graffiti on the wall about how dangerous it is, warning the kobolds not to go down there. Naturally, there's another adventure later on that covers this.  In the meantime, undead shadows should keep the PCs away.  They are meant to fight the kobold king himself, of course, and then the tribe's shaman who's still trying to make sacrifices.  The last of the missing kids is here, as well as another adventurer taken captive (who was probably already killed in a "practice run" of the sacrifice.

There's drama in town for the PCs to get involved with.  Also, the author is revealed as a bit of a weirdo and a downer; his notes following the adventure have one of the kids go crazy and turn into a serial killer, one of them's dad was secretly a necromancer, one of the mothers tries to hit on the PCs, and the rescued daughter (and her dad) freak out and handle that development badly.  All in all, there's a pretty grim, nihilistic, "nothing you do will really make a difference" vibe to it, although that's not literally true (a few of the NPCs can become good, including the arrogant son of the "lumber baron" who can be lured away from the greedy capitalist pig pursuits of his "lumber baron" father.

Sigh.  PNW hippies are the worst.

Anyway, then there's a teaser for worse evil yet to boil out of the levels of the dungeon that are even further down, and a pretty nifty appendix that details Falcon's Hollow, the town that all of this is based on.  For such a small town, the level of "urban politics" and skulduggery is... rather unrealistic, I think.  But, hey—a town map is a town map, and it's got plenty of ideas of stuff, at least.  And there's a couple of new monsters; a new type of undead, and the saber-toothed frogs.

My problems with this module are very similar to the ones I have with Hollow's Lost Heart (and I presume, to some degree, the entirety of the D-series): 1) I dislike "Save Timmy, he fell in the well!" premises and 2) dungeoncrawls.  Especially low-level dungeoncrawls, which by definition make less sense than higher level ones do, although none of them really work well.  Also; often in D&D adventures, monsters appear gratuitously, which is kind of irritating.  And if those starting premises don't bother you, the depressing nothing-matters vibe and tawdriness of the module is kind of off-putting too.

For my money, what I find potentially usable in this module is some of the detail of the town itself, and maybe some of the ideas for wilderness encounters.  The rest of the module is either too cliche to be interesting, or actively kind of insulting or off-putting.

Gaiseric and Desdichado

I use a small cropped version of the following Angus MacBride image as my avatar on many locations.  It's actually an image of Valaris, an Ostrogothic warrior who makes up a small vignette in the history of Procopius about the Gothic War that the Eastern Roman Empire fought against the Goths who had occupied and conquered Italy.  Although ultimately the Byzantines won that war against Totila and the Goths, they did so in such a Pyrrhic fashion that the Ostrogoths' relatives the Lombards were able to sweep in essentially unopposed and took their place.  Today much of northern Italy is still called "Lombardy" and has an essentially Germanic cultural character (although it no longer speaks a Germanic language for most of that area.)  Southern Italy was later exposed to conquest by the Normans.  And the Byzantines were so drained that their own empire gradually faded away; their loss of strength led directly to the need for the First Crusade to defend Eastern Christendom against the resurgent heathens of Islam.

For a variety of reasons, the success against the pagans was only limited and ultimately, under the martial leadership of the Ottomans they conquered most of the territory of Byzantium, and they hold it still.  One day (and hopefully one day in my lifetime, although I'm not holding my breath) it will be rewon for Christendom again.  But first, Christendom has a long process to "cleanse the inner vessel" before it can set its ambitions on anything bigger.  Christendom has brought itself to an existential crisis by the idolatry and iniquity of the majority of traditional Christians.  Sigh.

Anyway, although the image is of Valaris, who not only eventually lost his duel to Artabazes (although he killed him in turn) and an Ostrogoth, it was presented as a representative example of the Late Migration period Germanic warrior.  My own identity is not with the Goths, obviously, but with others of their cousins from the migrations.  I consider myself very about 45% Celtic (Briton and Scottish), 45% Germanic (Anglo-Saxon with a layer of Viking and Norman on top of that) and about 10% "other" (including very small percentages of Swiss, Portuguese and Jew).  So, the barbarians that harried Rome were not my direct ancestors, but rather close cousins of my direct ancestors.  My own ancestors were more interested in expanding northwestward rather than southeastward.  While I can look at the raids of Brennus or the conquests of Theoderic as part of my "heritage" that's possibly stretching it just a bit.  My heritage is more the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, Horsa and Hengist, Ælle, and the Heptarchy generally (and the Celtic substrate that remained and contributed significantly to the genetics, if not necessarily to the culture and linguistics, of the English as they later emerged.)

Because of that "extended" heritage, where I claim all of the migration period Germanic peoples as part of my heritage (especially if they are concerned with burning down the decadent and wasted strength of the empire, which we are in dire need of again), one of my earlier nom de plumes when I decided that using my real name was becoming inadvisable, was Gaiseric, a king of the Vandals who ravaged what was once the provinces of Hispania and Mauretania and Numidia, sacked Rome in 455, and established a pirate power based in Northern Africa (of all places).  Sadly, his legacy didn't outlive him very long, but the name of his people entered our language as a synonym for destruction of property (vandalism).

Desdichado, on the other hand, is a name that has a much closer tie to my own specific heritage, it being the alias that Ivanhoe used when fighting at the lists of Ashby.  Sir Walter Scott intimated that Desdichado meant "disinherited" which describes Ivanhoe's situation in more ways than one; he's literally disinherited by his father Cedric, and his people, the Anglo-Saxons, have been conquered and suffer the overlordship of the foreign Normans.  Of course, Ivanhoe himself (as his soon-to-be wife Rowena) was not particularly interested in Anglo-Saxon resurgence; his generation was more about the budding identity of English which was mostly Anglo-Saxon, but which absorbed the Normans as well.  Historically (and linguistically) this is nonsense; the English identity didn't emerge until the Hundred Years War, more than two hundred and fifty years after the time frame of Ivanhoe, and Desdichado doesn't actually mean disinherited; it actually is simply a rather fancy word for "unhappy."

Be that as it may, I relate to the concept of Desdichado; our own culture and heritage and country (which is a subset of that Ivanhoe would have founded had he been a real person) has mostly been stolen out from under us, leaving us disinherited in our own lands.  I'm surprised, disappointed, and yet also not that so few people get the reference—I had one guy ask me sarcastically if I was from the "Yorkshire Desdichados, then?" until I pointed out that it's not my real name, and if we actually still had our culture intact, he'd probably get the reference since Ivanhoe is much more a classic of English literature than the anti-literature that the so-called literati have tried to foist on us during our indoctrination posing as education.

In any case, I could have looked for an image that's more specifically Third Crusade age, but since Ivanhoe is a fairly typical romanticized local version of the Germanic warrior, I kept the image of Valaris, who was presented as the prototypical Germanic Warrior in the Osprey series of the same title by Simon MacDowall.  Plus, I was already using the image, and I like it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Solo: don't get your hopes up

Sure, sure... that may not mean that the movie will suck.  But none of these is a good sign, and I have little confidence in the talent of any of the people working on it.  (Especially Kathleen Kennedy.)

Sigh.  But I'll still see it in theaters.

At matinee price on Saturday morning or early afternoon, probably.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Carrion Hill Deconstructed

I had forgotten that while there are a few linked Darkmoon Vale modules, the D-series, as they call it, isn't really a series.  D was supposed to stand for Dungeon, indicating that it was primarily a Dungeon adventure.  The other codes were, for example, E for Event driven, W for Wilderness, LB for Last Baron, etc.  For the most part, there isn't really a series to the standalone modules, although there was a small series of sorts in the Darkmoon Vale: Hollow's Last Hope -> Crown of the Kobold King -> Revenge of the Kobold King -> Hungry Are the Dead.   You'd think given that there's only one small series, that I'd focus on it, but I had thought before I reviewed it that there were other series as well, and that I could do those first.  Given that there's not, I'm less inclined to concern myself with series, and just deconstruct modules that I'm interested in as I'm interested in them.  I probably should have done that from the get-go—I think I was drawn to the Darkmoon Vale stuff precisely because it was kind of a mini adventure path rather than because it actually was the one that I was the most interested in.  I was having a hard time breaking completely free of my old paradigm of deconstructing adventure paths and wanted to ween myself away from them, or something.


So, anyway, I'm not going to worry about deconstructing these modules in any particular order.  I'm just going to do them as I pick one up, re-read (or read for the first time, if I haven't yet) the module and do my little deconstruction song and dance here on the blog.  And of the standalone modules, it should maybe be a little unsurprising that the Lovecraftian-themed Carrion Hill was always one of my favorites.  One of the few that I actually read all the way through a long time ago too, actually.  Carrion Hill is directly Lovecraftian, and in fact, is almost a pastiche of Lovecraft's story "The Dunwich Horror".  There's some backstory to all of this, but most of it is needlessly esoteric; it's best just to know that there's an ancient shrine under the city of Carrion Hill called the Sunless Grove.  Some cultists mistakenly partially invoked a spawn of Yog-Sothoth, who now lurks under the city trying to finish "eating" the remainder of the cultists so it can regain its full strength (echo's of the Brendan Frasier Mummy here) and summon it's unearthy "father" Yog-Sothoth himself to town, which would be a global calamity if successful.  The PCs are in town (for whatever reason) to find it under siege, if you will, from the monster, and they have to help the outmanned and confused local authorities solve the problem.

In my opinion, the plot and set-up is a little contrived, but not moreso than most D&D modules, so it's probably not really worth complaining about. The module is best utilized if you can ignore the set-up, though, and work it into your campaign more organically.  Right off the bat, you can also see that the module offers an interesting semi-urban (it's really too small to be considered truly urban, I think) setting in the form of the town of Carrion Hill, which has a few unique elements to it.

As the PCs walk into town, there's a crier calling for adventurers (sigh.  I know) as one of the very first things that they see and hear.  They make their way to the mayor's house, where he tells them that some invisible monster has attacked from below three times so far today, the captain of his guard has been killed, it's toppling over houses and leaving a residue of foul slime behind, and otherwise he knows little except "go to the location of the first attack and investigate!" (Why the mayor has such strong opinions on how the PCs conduct their investigation is unclear, except that of course it makes the module easier to write that way.)

Slipper Market, then, has a few bodies under a tent, and the guards are digging through the rubble looking for more.  Apparently the house attacked was a poorly known relative newcomer who mingled little with the locals.  Amid the rubble there's some clues to be found; a blood-soaked rune that might be identified as belonging to the cults related to Yog-Sothoth, body parts of the missing captain of the guard, a tunnel leading below that seems to be where the creature entered the building (but apparently not where it exited).  An old cultist camp and some dark creepers reside here; suggesting that the victim of the attack was, in fact, one of five cultists.

This continues down to the Sunless Grove, a natural cavern even further below.  Two older bodies of cultists are here, including the owner of the house that was destroyed, actually. Here, the PCs will find a ghoul who's spent the last couple of days eating the bodies here, and reading a copy of The Pnakotic Manuscripts that the cultists left behind.  Here they can also find clues that suggest that five individuals camped here, and otherwise start piecing together what's going.  In fact, they went so far as to leave diaries laying around, with their names and everything, although it is written in Aklo so as not to be too obvious.

Bringing the results of this investigation back to the mayor will cause him to charge the PCs with additional tasks—find and confront these cultists, see if they know of a way to banish the creature that they inadvertently summoned, or in a pinch, just kill them so it will be banished on its own accord (and they are, after all, cultists who endangered the entire city and caused the deaths of at least a few dozen townsfolk already.)

Rupman Myre is one of the first cultists to be confronted; he owns a "middenstone vat"—some kind of local natural resource (fantasy unobtanium, basically) and has the sketchy business practice of manning his vat with zombies instead of regular workers, although he keeps this secret.  This is an interesting location; catwalks over bubbling vats, basically, which remind one sharply of how Two-Face and the Joker got their starts as freaks.  There's 8 zombies here, although alchemically treated to appear alive.  And then, of course, Rupman Myles himself, a panicked necromancer, who doesn't seem inclined to do anything other than fight the PCs.

Arlend Hyve is the next cultists; known as a scholar and historian who's lived in town for many years in a repurposed old church, he's actually also a master poisoner and murderer, who's explored the caverns immediately under his abode just a bit.  He's also panicked and is attempting to brew a poison that will kill the monster if it comes for him.  He also has four violet fungi (a very D&D-like "monster" living in his caves; he himself is a rogue.  Again; the module offers very little in terms of what to do with him other than kill him, same as Myre above.  They can also find evidence of some of the bodies Hyve has disposed of, including a missing guardsman.  He happens to have a sword on him that offers a bonus against aberrations, therefore, probably good for the final fight against the wayward spawn of Yog-Sothoth.

Waldur Crove is the final cultist, and he manages an insane asylum (of course) in town.  Crove actually has somewhat of a plan to deal with the oncoming spawn; feed it lunatics from the asylum to distract it while he binds it with a scroll and then grills it for whatever secrets they think it will tell them.  Here, the PCs will face big, beefy, lobotomized orderlies, and violent lunatics who have been the victims of Crove's heartless experiments for some length of time.  In order to reach the cultist, the PCs will have to run the gauntlet of lunatics left out as bait for the monster, and the orderlies who are there to keep them in place.  They aren't particularly fearsome combatants, but there are quite a few of them.  There's also a derro torturer in the dungeons underground, who is an ally of Crove's, and a morlock who's the same.  Crove also has a chaos beast from another past experiment buried in a sinkhole here (basically, a shoggoth, although lower in power, maybe, depending on how you interpret shoggoths in your game.)  Crove is lurking here too, and is the most powerful (by a small amount) of the cultists, a "mystic theurge" best interpreted in another system as a sorcerer or warlock of some sort.

The assumption is that the PCs confront and kill the remaining cultists, which keep the monster from sucking up their power.  The whole adventure is supposed to have a race against time vibe to it as they attempt to decipher the clues and kill the cultists before the monster does, who in the background will periodically be wrecking houses and whatnot as it looks for them.  There's a fair bit of discussion about how to tailor the interactions with the cultists, though, and the entire investigation overall, if you desire to make the module play out a bit differently, or the PCs dawdle, etc.  This monster is a CR 10 thing, usually beyond the capabilities of a 5th level standard party of D&D characters, but it suffers from 2 negative levels for each of the cultists that it hasn't killed and absorbed.  There isn't a specific place for confrontation here either, but it's assumed that it will barge in on the PCs at one of the locations listed above as they are dealing with the cultist associated with that location.

While the monster listed here represents Wilbur Whateley's monstrous brother, it does make reference to Wilbur Whateley type characters himself.

The last few pages of the module is a brief description of the town, some maps, etc.  This kind of stuff is always useful, no matter what, and there are just enough unique elements to make this town memorable.

This is an interesting module in that it doesn't really focus on monsters, with the exception, of course, of the main monster that looms in the background and offers the final showdown.  It's mostly a race against time to piece together clues and then confront human NPCs.  Although a few other monsters were thrown in to give the module some color (the ghoul, the derro, the morlock and the chaos beast), for the most part, they are all pretty classic monsters that either hail back to old school D&D, and they are in fact all based on fictional antecedents that precede even the 1st Edition D&D stats.  The spawn of Yog-Sothoth is the only unique monster, and by unique, of course, I mean that it's adapted directly from "The Dunwich Horror".

Although I don't have one per se in FANTASY HACK, by slapping invisibility on either a dark young of Shub-Niggurath or a shoggoth, I'd be there, so there's no reason why I should make one either were I to ever run or adopt this module.

In terms of how I'd run this, other than to note that I'd prefer a more organic grafting into an ongoing campaign than presented here, I think it's relatively well done as far as this type of product goes.  A few minor issues I'd probably modify, though—the siege of the asylum reads too much like a classic dungeon crawl; why is it that the PCs penetrate the "lair" of an NPC to find him (predictably) sitting in his sanctum waiting for them to arrive?  I think the race against time nature of the adventure is quite clever, but I prefer a more slow burn tension for horror style modules, at least until the very end.  The entire module (or at least two thirds of it) reads like the climax to the module.  And finally, I think the mayor and others are too proscriptive.  They need to say, if anything, look we need your help and you'll need to figure stuff out rather than, we need your help because we're understaffed, so I'm going to send you go to do something specifically that I or my closest agents should be doing.  That stretches credulity, even if it does, admittedly, make the module easier to run and easier to present.  Any good CoC scenario by default tends to involve the PCs flailing about for at least a little while as they try to piece together what exactly is going on.  Having NPCs tell them exactly where to go to find out exactly what's going on reduces the investigation aspect of it, which is a key and integral component to a good scenario of this type.

But those are, relatively speaking, pretty minor issues.

Friday, April 13, 2018

D0 Hollow's Last Hope Deconstructed

Since my CULT OF UNDEATH and ISLES OF TERROR projects were both successful in many ways, and yet not in others, I've decided to do something a little different going forward.  CULT OF UNDEATH took the Paizo Adventure Path Carrion Crown and deconstructed it, putting it back together again in a way I could play it and modified to fit into my personal setting.  For that first one, I found that I had hewed too closely to the original, which was problematic and difficult.  For ISLES OF TERROR, I tried to do it again with Serpent's Skull but divorce myself even more from the original structure.  In the end, I decided that rather than trying to rebuild these adventure paths into a new custom campaign that I could use based on the same (or similar) elements, that what was most successful about the project was just going through the books, talking at high level about what I think about them and how I would (or wouldn't) use the material myself, and then looting them for concepts to be converted from d20 (or Pathfinder) into FANTASY HACK.

So, this is the first post of this new paradigm, and I've given it the tag of PAIZO DECONSTRUCTED.  D0 Hollow's Last Hope is a standalone very early adventure from Paizo, and although it isn't part of an adventure path per se, it is loosely linked in the "D series" of modules that all take place in Darkmoon Vale, which also got a very early (albeit brief) setting supplement.  These are a little interesting, because they predate the standardization of formatting a little bit that Paizo became known for.  They certainly predate the release of Pathfinder, or even (if I remember correctly) the earliest version of the setting book.

D0 is a wilderness and dungeon adventure that's meant to be a prelude (although it came out later, so it's a prequel if you bought them in order) to D1: Crown of the Kobold King, which was Paizo's first big successful solo adventure, if I recall.  It takes place in a small frontier town nestled in a forested mountain valley supposedly run by "lumber barons" who can't be bothered to care that some kind of plague has entered the town.  The PCs, naturally, are meant to go into the woods and look for the ingredients to the Miracle Elixir that will cure them.  Sigh.  Paizo's location in the PNW and it's generally socialist vibe are both projected into the fantasy world.  But whatever, that kind of stuff is easily enough countered or changed.  A corrupt company town under the thumb of "lumber barrons" and a caricaturish "wise latina" archetype healer are almost beyond parody, but other than that, the idea of this frontier town with some woodlands to be explored nearby is certainly fine.  The set-up, though—I can do without.  I also dislike variations on "What? Timmy fell in the well?" adventures because they're cheesy and honestly kind of dumb even at the best of times, and saving poor villagers from having a bad cough (seriously; it says that the disease shouldn't be particularly deadly, except to the elderly, very young, and those who live in poor sanitary conditions.  Right there in the module background.) qualifies.

PART I: The Elusive Antidote.  Presumably the PCs will find their way to the hut of the local Wiccan wise woman (who's illustrated as black.  Or at least very brown) and find that there's quite the crowd of people wanting help there.  Curiously, after chatting with her, they're expected to go on a "gather the three-part McGuffins quest" even though pagan-witch lady herself doesn't have any confidence in the remedy!  (She does, however, think she might be able to make a fair bit of money off of it, and is willing, with some persuasion, to cut the PCs in.)

PART II: Darkmoon Vale. There's a little wilderness exploration, although rather modest, here.  After taking on hiking as a hobby, I've come to realize that travel time in D&D makes very little sense; but whatever.  This is mostly a bundle of potential random encounters, some of which add color but very little else (such as goat-like tracks from some two-legged goat-footed creature that appear and disappear again about 50 feet later.  Or an encounter with three "inexpert and slightly drunk human hunters" who are, at least, relatively friendly if inconsequential.)  The most challenging of these potential encounters is a couple of wolves.  I won't repeat them all here, but the color ones are fine, I suppose, if you don't overdo them, and nothing else listed there is anything I'd need.

A. Lumber Consortium Camp.  They go out of their way to make this ugly, surly, and whatnot, while describing the trees as "proud."  Sigh.  PNW Green Cultists; when they write modules.  The headman here can provide directions and a sketched map of the area, as well as put some pressure on the PCs—his nephew is one of the sick ones and if the PCs aren't back with a cure in time, he'll blame them (for reasons that make no sense.)

B. Bait. Here there's a fox in a trap that's whimpering, but it's really bait for a hobgoblin hunter and his "razorcrows" (hawk stats) who will fight the PCs.  They call the hobgoblin a poacher, but I'm not sure why—is it illegal for him to hunt here, or are just all "bad guy" hunters actually poachers?

C. The Forest Elder.  The Oldest tree in the forest, and one of the destinations the PCs have been seeking out to get a specific mold that only grows there, or something.  The adventure even gives us some background on how the tree was supposedly planted by this old druid guy, yadda-yadda-yadda.  It's all very Tolkienien, but how in the world or the PCs supposed to find that out?  Anyway, they'll get ambushed by a tatzylwurm (see below) here.

As an aside, there's also a sidebar on this page describing unique animals to the region.  This is all color, because the stats are copied from more familiar animals (a dunlied has the stats of a light horse, for example, and the firefoot fennec has the same stats as a dog.)  This isn't a bad idea, but it ends up usually being kind of superfluous, unless you've got some real hobbyist zoologists in your group.

D. The Hag-Haunted Hollow. The old witch's hut. Again, we're given a monologue that in spite of the rumors, the witch was really just a somewhat crotchety old woman, but how again are the PCs supposed to know that?  Anyway, she's long dead.  They can find one of the ingredients in her hut, but will most likely get tripped up by her animated cauldron, which will attack them to defend the hut and its contents.

PART III: The Ruined Monastery. Most of the rest of the module is dedicated to a small dungeon, which I'll summarize a bit more quickly because I dislike dungeons compared to wilderness exploration anyway. This is also a teaser of sorts, because this abandoned dwarfish monastery at the edge of the vale in the shadow of a mountain is the main focus of D1: Crown of the Kobold King, which is the next adventure.  But the PCs are meant to find what they're looking for on the surface level of this dungeon at least.  Depending on when they approach, the PCs might find a pair of wolves nearby.

The PCs will encounter some pretty typical 1st level dungeon crap here; a monstrous spider, a little trap and a kobold scout who hangs out on this level, some darkmantles (a very esoteric D&Dish monsters), a bat swarm, three dwarf skeletons, two more wolves, and of course, the "boss" of this level, a worg.  The worg might try and fool the PCs into thinking that he'd let them take the special dwarf mushrooms that they're looking for, but he won't, because he's a worg and he's bad.

Then the PCs rush back to town, Sonia Sotomayor makes up the potion, and the adventure is over (although it can be blended seamlessly, if desired, with the next one, which takes place in the underground levels of the dwarf monastery.  But I'm going to just present this one as written.

It's pretty straightforward, and actually kind of painfully cliche.  Just a quick "get started" module that will bring the PCs from 1st to 2nd level, and that's about it.  I suppose the adventure is fine, but personally, unless for some reason you're actually running it as is, I see little reason to mine it for much, because it's so cliche and obvious that you could just make this stuff up yourself without any problem.  It does include a few names (if you need that kind of thing; I prefer to have big name charts in languages that I've predetermined to use), a small regional map and the map of a small ruined monastery, which are straightforward and competently done, if nothing extraordinary or innovative.  It's not a bad little module, but unless you get it free (or at least really cheap) I'd probably pass.  There's dozens of similar things out there in Dungeon Magazine or elsewhere, or you could easily make this stuff up yourself.  It doesn't offer any ideas that are so interesting that most people won't stumble across them naturally anyway.

Finally, there's stats for the tatzylwurm, which is of course, a real creature of Swiss, German and Austrian folklore, but which is presented here as little different than my own previously mentioned snake-men—except a bit in terms of color and flavor.  Because of that, I won't bother making up new stats.

Friday Art Attack

I have no idea what to make of this picture except that it's really pretty interesting.  Which is sufficient, I think!

The title of the file has something to do with Abaddon, a demon mentioned prominently in the Book of Revelations, of course.  He doesn't look exactly like the DOTA 2 character, but maybe that's who it's supposed to be?  Either way, it's an interesting image of an interesting figure.

The "main world"; Absalom Station, from the Starfinder video game, corresponding to what's left of Golarion.

Wayne Reynolds' "Astral Stalker" from 3.5's Monster Manual III.  It's basically the D&D version of the Predator monster from the movies of the same name (get to da choppa!)

I really enjoyed WAR's wrap-around "murals" used as covers for various 3.5 era Eberron books.  Not all of them were ever released anywhere that I could see as digital hi-res art, and from the books themselves, they were often cut up and difficult to see because of the way the trade dress tried to be all fancy and stuff.  So, when you could get the full murals in reasonably high definition, it was nice.

A wannabe Conan fighting two of my favorite dinosaurs, Allosaurus fragilis from the Morrison Formation of late Jurassic Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, etc.

The same wannabe Conan facing off against a red-cloaked Grim Reaper.  I can't remember who the artist is for this series, but he's pretty interesting.  A discount Frank Frazetta, no doubt, but one good enough to be interesting.

The Eberron murals were hard to get a hold of, but for the most part, the Paizo ones are not (if nothing else, they can usually be extracted directly from the pdf files.  Unless you buy physical copies, of course.)  This is from the pseudo-reverse Monkey King go to Asia adventure path, needless to say.  Just as it looks like it would be.

Some Iron Kingdoms monster or other.  I really like the style of the Iron Kingdoms stuff, but it is very recognizable.

Another Starfinder piece of work, looking very much like it could belong to Star Wars, or heck, just about any other space opera, for that matter.

I decided for fun to start including one of my scenery images when I do this too.  It's not really "art" in the traditional sense, but I like them.  This is the Dillon Pinnacles in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, overlooking the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  A popular spot for boating and other activities, National Recreation Areas are not really for solitude seekers, as the name should imply,   This is actually quite close to where I went hiking last September in the West Elks Wilderness, as well as being quite close to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  This shot was probably taken from the road (well, I'm sure they pulled into the shoulder, at least, and set up a nice camera) so it's hardly inaccessible.  It would be just on the south side of the reservoir near the Middle Bridge.  It reminds me a lot of the Castles Pinnacles or the Mill Creek cliffs, which I wanted to see (but ended up not, or at least not up very close) on my own last year.  It looks like I've got plenty of reason to go back.  If you cross the bridge from here, heading northeast, there's a trailhead and picnic area; the trail moves right up to the pinnacles themselves.  It's a little short, two-mile out and back, so easily done as a way to stretch your legs for an hour or so while driving through.

Here's a gramma and grandpa video of the hike, which is pretty laid back, but short enough.  She's wrong, though.  You could relatively easily hike to the top if you were so inclined, although of course, you'd have to route find yourself, because the trail doesn't take you there.  But you can certainly hike in places where there isn't a trail.  I've done it plenty, and with open country with low scrubs and bushes instead of trees, so you can easily see where you are the whole time, it's pretty easy.

Gramma might want to put some long pants on first, though, so she doesn't get her legs all scratched up.  From personal experience, I can vouch that bushwhacking in shorts is often not very fun.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Well... after a few months of basically farting around and doing squat all, I went off on vacation out of state, didn't even bring my laptop with me, and then got sick, and basically have ignored everything blog-related for two weeks.  But that's not entirely and completely true.  I did read some of my old blog posts on my phone while I was out and about, especially because I got kind of sick on vacation and ended up laying around in my hotel room trying to sleep while my wife and kids were out doing stuff.  I couldn't always sleep, so sometimes I looked up stuff that I'd worked on in the past.  I also listened to a bunch of music that I've acquired recently, especially hard trance stuff, and I also was out west where the scenery is great.  It would have been the perfect time of year to go to Moab or Mexican Hat or one of those other places in Southern Utah where I could really enjoy the red rock country without it being too hot.  I didn't get to do that, but I did wander a bit through the Wasatch ranges (even if they were still brown and snow-topped, but also just past ski season) and through some of the southeastern Idaho ranges, like the Malad Range, for example, which looms ominously (yet not really all that high) right over the gas station in border town Plymouth, UT.  Once you get past Pocatello, the scenery retreats to the horizons and you find yourself in dry, windy basins where places like Rigby, Idaho Falls or Rexburg are.  I think I also had the best hamburger I've ever had at Big Jud's Burgers in Archer, ID too.  Ho-lee cow.

So, I got to hit just a tiny bit on almost all of my topics—I read a bunch of gaming posts that I'd made in the past, I listened to a bunch of the music that I'm discovering, and although I could only look around and imagine hiking, I was at least embedded in the kind of scenery that I love (I did manage to find some time to take the family to a few scenic overlooks and other places like that, which they actually kind of enjoyed—even though our agenda didn't have a lot of flexible time in it to play with.)  I also pre-ordered the new Galaxy's Edge book, which is due out in just a couple of weeks, and... I dunno, feel a little more motivated, if not exactly more focused, on returning to blogging, and doing so in a way that actually advances some agenda other than "saying I did it."  In that vein, here's my plans, more or less:

First, I'm going to pull up some more Paizo stuff and deconstruct them, the way I did with the CULT OF UNDEATH and ISLES OF TERROR projects.  However, I'm not going to rename these and plan on getting a runnable chopshopped hot rod campaign out of the raw materials of a Paizo Adventure Path; I'm just going to deconstruct them, find out if anything in them strikes me as "wow, I need to add that to FANTASY HACK, at least as optional supplemental material, if not directly to the core stuff" and otherwise talk about how I would use the material in the Paizo adventure I just read, if at all, at a high level.  I'm also not necessarily going to limit myself to adventure paths, as there are a load of stand alone adventures that I have that I'd like to do too.  And it's easier to pull off in smaller chunks anyway.

These have migrated over time from being a very targeted project of sorts to just becoming, with this move, a very esoteric review of a product that's old anyway.  Whether this will be of any interest to any readers, I don't know, but it sure will be interesting to me to do, anyway, and what the heck, it's been one of my better runs of projects here on the blog in the last several years, and has actually generated (somewhat by accident, because it's not really what I expected out of it) more useful and interesting material (to me, at least) than almost anything else I've done.

Second, I said shortly before leaving that I'd be working up some new AD ASTRA data sheets, which I haven't actually gotten around to doing yet.  But I will!  I promise!  That's actually something that I've enjoyed quite a bit as long as I don't try to go too crazy with it and do too much.

Third, although I'm a bit behind, I'm going to continue my Friday Art Attack series, starting up again tomorrow.  That's a relatively low effort post series, and I enjoy looking through this old art and thinking about what it could all do for me in my gaming or speculative fiction endeavors.

Fourth, although I intend to cut back a bit on the music posts, which seem to have made up way too much of what I've done I'm still interested in them.  But I've slowed down tremendously the rate at which I'm acquiring new music, and I want to focus on highlighting songs that are really standouts.  And hey!  I've already got a blog for that!  Yeah, yeah—I don't use it enough.  But if I keep my discussions about music in the format that that blog was designed for, then why not keep using it?

Fifth... I don't really have anything on fifth, but I feel almost like I should start my Street Fighter blog moving again.  Even though I have no idea what I would talk about there.  I don't even play those games nearly as much as I did when I was really going through that phase for a few years where I played loads of Street Fighter Alpha 3, King of Fighters '98 Ultimate, Real Bout Fatal Fury 2, etc.  Once I got Ultra Street Fighter IV, I just basically have lost interest in playing anything older than that.  And Street Fighter V and King of Fighters XIII just didn't really capture my interest the same way.  I think I'm kinda over the hobby, maybe for good, the same way I am over Games Workshop.  I still think it's kinda cool, but I struggle to think I'll ever be motivated to get into it again other than occasional forays for nostalgia.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On remixes, over time and genre

Remixes have changed significantly over time.  In the past, the term was more literal.  The elements of a song, each recorded in a studio on individual tracks, had to be mixed to make a song.  This was normally the job of the producer, but starting in the age of disco (at least) and carrying over into dance music in general after that, remixing became a thing.  Often this meant repeating elements, and extending the song, but it also sometimes meant using the elements in a different arrangement to highlight different aspects of it. Only very occasionally was a new element recorded, but even then, it was usually subtle, and very small. Through most of the 80s, this was the standard use of the word remix, and although a few people attached their name to remixes, they were often the same people who did production on the albums anyway, so it was just an extension of their work there (this is what someone like Mike Saunders or Gareth Jones would have done, for instance.)

Now, keep in mind that in the 80s, I didn't listen to very much of what we'd call EDM yet—I was still more in New Wave, or what retroactively we've started calling synthpop.  Stuff like Depeche Mode, Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys, Ultravox, etc.  An important element of this type of music is, of course, the pop song structure and the vocal melody (and backing vocal harmonies.)

Here's an example; a rather lengthy one, but still.  Ultravox's #3 (in Britain) hit "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" in original (well, remastered) version, and the very long "Special" Mix, which doesn't really use any new elements, but which extends the song significantly and highlights stuff that fades more into the background in the original version.  Note the intro, where the bass-line is a bit exaggerated, for instance—it's present in the original version, but you don't really notice it until the remix calls attention to it.  That intro just goes on forever and ever, by the way, which wasn't necessarily a requirement of these remixes.  But making them Extended was not unusual.  Most of the actual vinyl 12" singles (as well as later cassette and CD singles I bought during the 80s were mostly made up of these types of remixes.)

Gradually, remixers started adding a bit more.  There are, for example, four remixes of "A Little Respect" by Erasure on the 12" single I bought.  Two of them are variations of the kind of remix I mentioned above.  The Big Train remix adds more stuff.  It's subtle, but certainly noticeable  And then... there's the 12" House Mix.  By the end of the 80s, a significant change had started to come over the world of remixing, which this remix is an example of.  Remixes were now an excuse for the remixer to be the star.  A number of remixes were built almost from the ground up, with all new instrumentation, and the original was only nodded at in passing as the vocals were layered in, sometimes modified or filtered to give it a different sound.  I hated with a passion some of these remixes, which were terrible house songs that bastardized the originals rather than ones that added something significant or interesting.

Here's my sample of this kind of crap; from the "World In Your Eyes" CD single; one of the first really disappointing things I bought by Depeche Mode (partly because I didn't love the song in the first place, and thought that some good remixing could really improve it.  The same had been done with earlier singles from Violator, including "Personal Jesus" with the "Holier Than Thou Approach" and the "Pump Mix"; both of which were little removed from the earlier 80s paradigm, but which significantly improved the song from the album version.  Or, for that matter, the same was true with "Enjoy the Silence" where a mediocre album version was vastly improved by the "Hands and Feet Mix".

With "World In Your Eyes" the strange housey remixes that almost completely ignored the original song were all we got, just about.  Not that other 12"ers I bought during this era didn't have a mix or two of that type, but for the most part, they were rare, while good remixes were more common.  I added those two links above for reference, but I actually get bored with the original, and actively dislike the remix.

But there was an upside to this.  If you ignored the fad of house-sounding remixes that swept through the synthpop genre, what we also started to get were remixes that were a little more daring, making the song sound like it had a different mood, or different tone, or maybe that it was a collaboration between two different bands altogether.  In fact, that's an interesting side effect of it; bands started to become as remixers in addition to for their own work. Here's an early example; Anything Box's "Jubilation" in original album version, plus some remixes from the 12" (or CD) single.

For a more "mature" example of this same phenomena, here's a turn of the millennium song, "Annie, Would I Lie to You" by Iris.  The original version is first, then the "Children Within Bunker Mix" which, as you might expect, makes the song sounds almost like the vocalist from Iris did a collaboration with the Children Within, who remade the synths from the ground up.

This is more or less still the situation today in the synthpop (and futurepop and other related genres) scene today, and for the most part I like it.  That doesn't mean that I like every mix, of course, but it does mean that for the most part, you can tell what a mix is likely to sound like if you have any familiarity with the remixer.  It also means that we get a lot of variety in our remixes, which is an improvement from the old days when you had remixes that all sounded mostly the same (listen to the remixes for "New York New York" by MCL for instance.  Good luck telling by ear which one you're listening to, unless it's the Razormaid Remix (not the Razormaid Mix, which is different) which at least adds a subtle new sound to a few places.)

And MCL is a good spring board from New Wave to EDM, since it's basically an early EDM song—there isn't much to go on with a verse-bridge-chorus structure, or a vocal melody, or anything like that, which is what is also true for most EDM songs.  Some do have vocals, but quite often it's just a sample, or a monolog, or some other minor element of the song rather than the backbone around which the song is built.  This means that remixing in this new paradigm, where it's more than simply remixing existing elements, is a complicated process.  What exactly does it mean to remix, when it's nothing but instrumental elements, and you're expected to create new ones to give the song a different spin of some kind?  But not too different, because you still want to recognize it as the same song?  It really blurs the distinction between the artist and the producer/remixer quite a bit, just as it blurs the distinction between a remix and a cover version of the song itself.

Ironically, speaking of vocals, some of these early EDM remix hits made songs famous by removing vocals.  Here's two examples of that: the Cameron Paul remix of C.C.C.P.'s "American-Soviets" and the most famous of the Jam & Spoon remixes of Age of Love's "Age of Love"

 And this is what got me thinking about all of this in the first place.  All week I've been really digging Dave Joy's "First Impression."  It's a great song.  But one of the things that is really interesting about it is that there seem to be more good remixes of this song than just about any other song I've got in my collection.  It even dwarfs the number of good remixes I have for "Acid Nightmare" by A*S*Y*S or "The Answer" by Tommy Pulse, or even of "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode.  Well, maybe it doesn't dwarf the number of "Enjoy the Silences" that I have.  But it certainly matches it.  It's surprising how many versions of this song there are. And, it's surprising how many of them are versions that I like.  I've had a really hard time picking a favorite, and even if I do, it's a close thing, because a bunch of other versions are really cool too.

Here's where all of this comes together, though—the original version is called the "Original Skyline Mix" but along with that was a remix by Dave Joy (the artist) and DJ Loudness, as well as one by another hardtrance artist known as S.H.O.K.K.  It's the S.H.O.K.K. mix that took off and made the song a hit.  And it sounds quite a bit different from the original, to the point where it's almost another song altogether.  Those three were the original release, but there were several additional releases over the years, down until we got the 10th Anniversary release with a bazillion remixes.  But the curious thing is that the newer remixes tend to be remixes of the S.H.O.K.K. remix; containing elements that are unique to that version, rather than of the original song.

Anyway, the whole thing is kinda curious, and I've already rambled way too long on a very esoteric topic, but listen to the "Original Skyline Mix", the "S.H.O.K.K. Remix" and the more recent "Nomad Remix" to see what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Best acid

Sometimes things come full circle.  I was aware of the London acid scene of the mid and late 90s long before I became aware of the (mostly) Continental hardtrance scene of the (mostly) 00s.  But because hardtrance largely emerged by combining the acid sound with the trance sound into acid trance, which evolved into hardtrance (arguably, trance came out of the earlier acid scene to begin with), I find myself coming full circle and getting more into acid that I missed the first time around.  Especially if it intersects in some way with hardtrance.

The funny thing is how similar all EDM really is to other variations of it.  People sometimes act like there are massive fissures dividing the three great branches of EDM: techno, trance and house.  This is baloney.  Lots of artists were all over the place, and lots of tracks are hard to put in a specific genre.  The fact that some others are not doesn't mean that there isn't a continuum of closely related music that slips in and out of genre definitions all the time.  Most EDM is... well, it's all quite similar.  This is even true of folks who think that there are loads more than three big branches, and treat Breaks and Jungle as if they are completely separate things from Trance or Techno.

Speaking of controversial, I don't think techno was invented by the Belleville Three either.  I think it evolved directly out of New Beat in Europe, and what the Belleville guys were doing was a sideshow of hip-hop and Chicago house.  That said, acid was clearly invented by Phuture in Chicago, although it was just a weird novelty when they did it.

That said, there are some types of EDM that I don't like by type.  Some of the really extreme hardcore stuff, like speedcore and whatnot, is just stupid.  Goa and psy-trance kind of irritate me with their phony trippy-hippy exoticism.  The whole drug culture of the rave scene I dislike a lot, but honestly—it pervades all of EDM, not just psy-trance.  A lot of house I don't like, but a some of it I do.  I got really turned off when house-style remixes took over on my CD and 12" singles of New Wave (synthpop) stuff  in the very late 80s and early 90s; they really screwed up a load of the Depeche Mode Violator remixes, for example.  But I really like Felix Da Housecat's "Silver Screen Shower Scene."  Then again, discogs often calls that Electro or Tech House or even merely Techno rather than House.  And although there's this narrative (as noted above) that House and Techno both evolved out of some kind of hip-hop and soul movement, that's absurd.  I actually quite dislike "black" electronic music, such as it is.  I have no connection to it, and no interest in it.  The whiter (and usually more European—for whatever reason my folks on this side of the Atlantic don't dabble in it nearly as much—the better.  And to some degree, the harder the better, unless it devolves in self-parody, which it sometimes does (and I do like plenty of wispy, ethereal stuff; I love a lot of Dreamwave stuff, for instance.  And most people don't even call that EDM at all.)

But obviously, attempting to draw hard and fast lines around EDM and attempts to oversplit it are somewhat foolish, at best.  (I mean, fer cryin' out loud, Ishkur's, which is sometimes pointed to as definitive, has "hard acid techno" as a separate development from "acid techno."  And he doesn't recognize acid trance as even existing at all—but he's clearly biased against trance, so there's that.  Rather, there are influences and movements that move like waves through the sea of electronic music, affecting all kinds of overly split subgenres at a time.  The squelchy, dirty overdriven 303 bass-line that defines acid, for instance, is sometimes called is own thing, but it there's also acid house, acid techno, acid trance, and more.

So, what's the best acid?  As I've been involved a lot more with exploring acid, I've been looking for what I think are the definitive tracks, that really stand out for some reason or another.  "Acid Trax" by Phuture is probably the first acid house song ever, where the overdriven 303 was first overdriven, as far as anyone knows.  Primitive 80s house like this still sounds pretty much like every other primitive electronic music genre, though: does adding an overdriven 303 line to Kraftwerk or Throbbing Gristle fundamentally remake it?  I doubt it.    "Acid Trax" is interesting as probably the first acid song, but hardly the best.  Acid didn't get really good until musicians from Europe got a hold of their own 303s and started adding them to what was already a mature and diverse electronic music scene going on at the time.

My oldest son (the only one with whom I can talk EDM) will tell you that "Mad Cows on Acid" from 1997 by DDR & The Geezer is the best acid song.  It's a credible shot at the title.  He's also the one who introduced me first to "Acid Nightmare", an acid trance track by A*S*Y*S, who I probably like better than he does now.  That's another credible contender (sometimes you can tell just by how many versions of it there are out there, which is a testament to its enduring influence and success.)  One of the earliest tracks I encountered of the genre was "Je Suis Electrique" by L'Âge Synthétique, before I even had any idea that I was listening to an acid bassline.  The minimalism, while still offering an emotional crescendo and brooding darkness also makes it a classic of either early tech trance or hard trance, depending on what you want to call it.

Really, the first acid most people hear and recognize is one that they may not know is acid; Pump Panel Reconstruction's remix of New Order's "Confusion" which was famously used in the first Blade movie in the vampire nightclub, when the blood came out of the sprinkler systems.  This is so enduring, in fact, that the specific 303 bassline has been sampled and reused in at least three other songs since: the Warp Brothers (sometimes partnered with various others in some versions) "Blade (Phat Bass)", Randy Katana's "Play It Loud" and Public Domain's "Blade (Bass In The Place)".

Perhaps that's my own bias showing, but the acid that trends towards trance and hard trance tends to be my favorite stuff.  Check out Wippenberg's "Neurodancer" or the long version of Solar Quest's "Acid Air Raid" for some other credible "best acid" tracks.

I've got other stuff; acid that's so experimental and musique concrete that it's barely listenable.  I've got hardstyle acid (some stuff by Blutonium Boy and DJ Neo, but even A*S*Y*S is into this stuff now.  I'll throw out another potential contender here with either "Acid and Bass" by those two, or "Acid Overdose."  Both are credited to one of the two, but produced/mixed by the other, or by the pair.).  I've got very minimalist acid.  But for a final contender, let's throw out the oddly ethereal and "light and floaty" "Pure Acid" by Kai Tracid.  Mostly just because it's quite a bit different, and shows some of the breadth of the genre.  From dark and minimalist, to party rave bangers, to ethereal and flighty "happy" trance songs, acid can do it all, while still delivering the classic overdriven 303 sound.
  1. "Acid Trax" Phuture
  2. "Mad Cows On Acid" DDR & The Geezer
  3. "Acid Nightmare" A*S*Y*S
  4. "Je Suis Electrique" L'Âge Synthétique
  5. "Confusion [Pump Panel Reconstruction]" New Order
  6. "Neurodancer" Wippenberg
  7. "Acid Air Raid" Solar Quest
  8. "Acid Overdose" DJ Neo
  9. "Pure Acid" Kai Tracid

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Arizona Trail Thru-hike

Although I don't talk about my hobby of hiking here all that often, it is still one of my favorite things to do, especially in the American west and southwest, which I consider my true home (as opposed to the upper Midwest where work has me living.  Not that I'm not happy enough living where I live, but I don't get out and hike very many weekends in Michigan or Ohio, needless to say, when it's the deserts and mountains of the Rockies and the Colorado Plateau that I love.)

Here's a long-distance hike that's maybe a bit more doable for someone like me that can't afford to take half the year off to do one of the "big" hikes of the Triple Crown; the Arizona Trail.  At 800 miles, it's only a third the length of the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, although it offers a very similar experience to the first third of either of those, in many ways.  Plus, taking a 6-8 week sabbatical from work is a more doable option than a six month sabbatical, I think (not that I've done any investigation whatsoever into what's required for either.  I just know that 6-8 weeks of unpaid leave is more affordable than six months of it.)

Chris Berry, or @hikerslim, is the guy hiking this YouTube compilation of the trail.  I really like how he's by himself.  To so many hikers, getting into the "hiking community" and moving as a group seems to be part of the experience; I don't like that.  If I take a group of friends and family with me, that's one thing, but otherwise, I don't want to meet up with people that I only know by their trail names and we travel together.  If this is a true solo hiking experience, it's already much more appealing than even the CDT or PCT, and certainly much more appealing than the AT.

He seems like a nice guy.  Much of his commentary is fairly mundane, even banal, but he says it with a smile and a mild attitude that reminds me of a slightly hippier version of Bob Ross or Mr. Rogers.  It's a relatively enjoyable experience to hear him talk about how clear he expects the water in an upcoming stock tank to be compared to the stream he just filled up in, or giving oddly precise mileage counters as he obsesses over the starts and stops of the "passages" as defined by the Arizona Trail Association.  Very relaxing.  Pleasant fella.  I do laugh a bit at his constant discussion about passage starts and stops, which in most respects are somewhat arbitrary anyway.  Unless you're stopping for a night in town, or a resupply, then crossing a passage boundary means very little, after all.

Of course, I've probably ruined the experience—because his videos don't have a musical soundtrack; just his talking (plus the occasional bird call or wind noise, although his gear does a good job of keeping that down) I've gotten to playing background music on my own with Windows Media Player, and the experience is somewhat less relaxing, needless to say, when you've got face-melting acid techno like "Mad Cows on Acid" or "Acid Air Raid" playing in the background.  Oh, well.

As an aside, if I ever do hike the Arizona Trail, and make a video diary of it, I will almost certainly avoid the hiker video cliches of recording my feet from directly above; a view that consistently gives me a headache to try and watch, and I'll probably actually stop and talk, rather than hold out my camera or phone and record myself walking.  I also doubt that I'll put my phone down on a mini tripod and take a video of myself walking past it, because then I'll just have to go back, get the phone, and trim that out anyway.  I tend to think; who really wants to look at me, anyway?

Monday, March 26, 2018

(Belated) Friday Art Attack

Whoops!  I got busy and never did the Friday Art Attack on Friday after all.  The weekend was even busier.  Here it is, only a little bit late.

Two versions of the Ice Temple from the Frozen Shadows map for Temple Run 2.  Temple Run is a bit boring, which makes it a decent time-killer app for when you're sitting there in the dentist office waiting room, or something like that, but it doesn't get much beyond that.

Apparently there was a comic book based on the game.  That might have been doable.  The concept is, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the execution is relatively shallow, as befits the type of game that it is.

From the comic book Fall of Cthulhu, and turned into one of those Demotivator type memes.

Sniper rangers.  If only, D&D.  If only.

Michael Whelan's cover art for A Princess of Mars.  I always thought his green men looked too thin and spindly and Dejah Thoris didn't look very red, but whatever.  That's because the first time I read it, I had the Frank Frzetta cover and interior illustrations.  Of course, Frazetta made the red men even less red; they were just straight up white people.

Today's Wayne Reynolds.  A blue dragon from some Paizo adventure or other.

An aboleth; one of D&D's most overtly Lovecraftian original creations.

Some more Waynbe Reynolds, from the Abyssal Plague novel trilogy.  Which, actually, isn't all that bad for D&D fiction.  Mostly because two of the three novels were written by Don Bassingthwaite, who's probably among the most talented novelists doing D&D work.  James Wyatt does the middle volume, and it's not bad either.

The preface novel by Bill Slaviscek, on the other hand, is terrible.

Some deviant art spaceship designs.  This has a military corvette, or possibly frigate, kind of look to it.

Well, another Wayne Reynolds.  The original Eberron mural.

Familiars; a bat, a toad, big centipede, and a quasit—which if you're not already familiar with the concept of a quasit, it's the demonic equivalent of an imp, which D&D has decided is a devil.  And, of course, contrary to pretty much every source ever, D&D has decided that devils and demons (and daemons) are significantly different types of beings.

I'm not quite sure what is happening here, but it has a kind of Quori vibe going on.  How's that for an esoteric D&D reference?

Friday, March 23, 2018

First Impression

I've been pretty delinquent in posting lately, but I'll do a Friday Art Attack in a little bit.  In the meantime, here's a very nice hardtrance song I recently discovered, in many, many forms, since it got a 10th anniversary release with 18 mixes (and then even an additional remix after that.)

For whatever reason, the Dave Joy "Topic" page has the thing listed twice, but go through the "First Impression" videos (the green ones) and see which ones you like.  For me, personally, it's very hard to pick a favorite.  I discount the edits and radio mixes, as merely shorter versions of the better long tracks anyway.  I'm not a huge fan of the Paul Webster mix, which has a kind of Chicago House like vibe to it (and I always hated late 80s and early 90s house).  The Michael Tsukerman has a kind of classic trance vibe to it; a bit more laid back and less overtly hard trance than most of the rest.  The Nomad and the Alex Mac & Zeebra Kid vs Nicky D mixes have some acid overtones (curiously the mix by Acid Maniacs isn't all that acidic, but very unique and recommended nonetheless).  Philippe Rochard turns the song, as expected, into a hardstyle song.  The Skyline mix is supposedly the original, although the DJ Loudness vs. Dave Joy mix is also from the original release.  The S.H.O.K.K. remix is from the original release, and is considered a classic of the hardtrance genre. It's impossible for me (at least at this point) to pick a favorite version; at least half a dozen of the ones I have are in the running.

You can also check out the entire run of "First Impression" mixes on Spotify if you prefer to use Spotify to YouTube (be sure and check out the Madwave remix, which is separate).  You can also buy the whole enchilada at Amazon, iTunes, Beatport and various other locales. The price per individual track isn't great, but you can get the entire 10th Anniversary as a digital download for less than $6, which works out to about 33¢ a song.

In fact, the challenge (if you want to call it that) isn't in finding the versions, it's in deciding which ones make the cut, get added to my phone, or to my playlist of hardtrance "best of" hits.  Having more than half a dozen of one song is... well, it's not completely unheard of (ahem, "Acid Nightmare") but it's odd.  And then, we start talking about "Second Chase" or "Third Pleasure" or even "Fourth Joyride", where granted, the number of mixes goes down on each, but are still substantial, all by the same artist