Wednesday, September 26, 2007

E6 Freeport News #1

Well, the campaign has been kicked off. One group, doing the "Murders in Scurvytown" adventure are currently finding that their ship is stuck on a reef and they're under attack by orc pirates.

So no Scurvytown yet, but we'll get there soon.

The other group, the "Blasphemy in Bloodsalt" started their game on the pier as fresh-faced arrivals in town, and were almost immediately accosted by a gang looking to shake them down. So yeah; not much plot yet, but both groups are engaged in combat. I always find that "Roll for initiative" is not a bad way to start any campaign, and if sets up the idea from the get-go that this isn't going to be a plodding, existential exploration of morality and characters, but a wild ride with adventure, horror, death and the threat thereof pretty much constant.

I'll keep you posted as the fight's wind down and the roleplaying begins.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Freeport Shipping News

Huh. That sounds like a good temporary title for my blog.

In any case, I've somehow found myself committed to running a Play-by-post game set in Freeport for 12 players. Yes, twelve. I'm going to have two concurrent storylines and try to wind them together somehow.

Anyway, it sounds really fun and exciting, but also fraught with potential to fall apart if it doesn't work. I'll keep everyone posted here on how it's working out. We're due to have all characters in and ready to go and start on Monday.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I've been fascinated with the beginnings of the tetrapod invasion of various terrestrial ecosystems, and of course, you can't talk about that without talking about Ichthyeostega, famous throughout most of the 20th century as the "first amphibian", found in Fammenian rocks in eastern Greenland. For fun, here's a picture of "Ole Ichthy."

Ichthyostega isn't actually an amphibian, as it turns out, although he's a "pre-amphibian tetrapod." He was discovered in the 1930s in a famous paleontological expedition.
Some fragmentary Acanthostega material was also found, although it wasn't until the late 1980s that really good material was found on this cousin and contemporary of "Ole Ichthy." There's also some pictures of him attached:

With this new material, though, it doesn't look like "Ole Acanthy" was actually very adept at getting out of the water, and it's not believed that he did. The same is often said about Ichthyostega too. In fact, even slightly younger basal tetrapods (still not amphibians) like Hynerpeton and Tulerpeton seem to be adapted to swimming around in shallow, clogged swampways more than coming up on land. I guess that's to be expected; they've gotta handle that environment first, after all.

A couple of little guys that I wasn't aware of were discovered in the 90s that are actually even older and more primitive basal tetrapods than this crew, though, found in the Upper Frasnian in Scotland. These are Elginerpeton and the closely related Obruchevichthys. I can't find any images of the latter (and he's known from some pretty spotty skeletal remains anyway) but here's Elginerpeton for your perusal.

As you can probably see quite well just from these illustrations, these basal tetrapods are extremely primitive, and only barely removed from the sarcopterigian (lobe-finned) fishes from which they descended.

In fact, here's a sarcopterygian fish very similar to the first tetrapods for you to look at, if you're interested, weird little Tiktaalik, which frankly is as much notable for it's bizarre name as for it's position close to the ancestry of all Tetrapoda. In fact, it's so close, that cladistically, it's in a group falled Tetrapodamorpha, in which Tetrapoda is closely nested.

From these images, hopefully it's obvious how fishlike the first "amphibians"; the basal tetrapods truly are.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is roots. The root of all land vertebrates in the entire world, which showed up in the late Devonian, 380 million years ago for the earliest examples pictured above.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some stuff...

Changed the title again. Blood on the Asphalt is actually the name of a free online "CD" you can download that takes the melodies of the familiar Street Fighter 2 songs and "remixes" them. Remakes them, honestly. It's a tribute album. Some of them are pretty weird. Many of them are excellent. Anyway, I'm going to temporarily steal their name because it's cool.

Other than that, I've been keeping on keeping on. Not much to report. For fun, I've been creating a spreadsheet of all the earth's ages, their names, subdivisions, date that it started (in millions of years ago) and ended, total length, and a few comments. Unlike most such lists, mine doesn't start at the top and go backwards, which I've never found intuitive; it starts at the beginning and goes forward. Imagine that. That's the main reason I did it; to have it all in one place in an intuitive format, but it's also fun to see the time frames. One interesting side effect of looking at all this has been surprising to me.

I'm used to looking at dinosaur ages, and I guess it never occurred to me just how remarkable it is that dinosaurs were on the earth for 160 million years, and that they dominated the fauna for a good 140 or more of those 160 million years. Mammals have been around a good 200 million years and dominated the world for about 65 million---but the terrestrial megafauna dynasties prior to the dinosaurs are surprisingly short. In fact, I never really thought about it, but it was less than 150 million years before the first dinosaur that Ichthyostega and Acanthostega were the first tetrapods to lumber their way out of the water on occasion. At the K-T extinction event, when the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, they had dominated the terrestrial megafauna for more than half of the time that there had even been a terrestrial megafauna to dominate!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Really old grass

This is actually somewhat old news (reported almost two years ago) but since I don't get the opportunity of working as a specialist, I often miss stuff like this.

I was watching the documentary disc 2 section of Walking With Prehistoric Beasts last night, and the scientist they were interviewing made the common claim that even the earlier parts of the Age of Mammals were incorrect to show grass, which didn't arrive on the scene until 30-40 million years ago.

Oddly enough, phytoliths; cells that are specific to grasses, have been found in dinosaur coprolites from about 70 million years ago. This was startling, not only that grass was obviously around that long ago (and part of a titanosaur diet) but that they found five varieties of phytoliths, which is a good marker for types of grass. This indicates that grass had already undergone a fair amount of diversification and speciation; enough so that estimates for the arrival of grass were instantly extended to 100 million years ago or more!

Now truly is a great time to be alive and a fan of dinosaur paleontology. Almost everything we thought we knew about dinosaurs when I was a child has been overturned and we have an entirely different view now of both dinosaurs and their environment both. Not only that, more dinosaurs have been discovered in the last decade than had been discovered in all the time that dinosaurs were known to modern, Western science prior to that. And many of them are truly bizarre. We have the Antarctic fauna, for example. We have the incredible wealth of the Yixian feathered dinosaurs. We've discovered small, feathered and very early tyrannosaurs like Dilong paradoxus, Guanlong wucaii and Eotyrannus lengi. We've discovered the entire radiation of abelisaurs after declaring that Ceratosaurus nasicornis was a late surviving "living fossil" and a dead end. Whoops. We've discovered the amazing diversity and success globally of titanosaurs after saying that the sauropod heydey ended at the end of the Jurassic. Whoops.

Dinosaurs have never been sexier.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Well, I've hit upon another idea for running Dark•Heritage even better. This is the E6 suite of houserules, originally designed for D&D, but applicable I'd think for any d20 game.

Essentially, the idea is that if 95% (or more) of the people in the world only have a level or two of commoner, expert, or some other NPC class, then someone who's about 6th level or so will seem epic. The 6th level fighter can take down a dozen 1st level warriors without going down himself. A 6th level wizard can blast your home into oblivion.

The idea is that since the sweet spot of any d20 game seems to be after you've got a few levels in, but starts to degrade seriously by the time you hit 10th level, this houserule extends the sweet spot indefinately. Essentially no matter how long you play the character, you can still get upgrades without ever moving out of the sweet spot.

Since my prior solution has just been to stop the game and reset with new character by the time you hit 10th level or so, I think this is a wonderful solution. I think I'm going to apply the concept to my d20 Modern and d20 Past ruleset, which means that I'll essentially have to write an all new rules document applying the E6 concept to them.

Oh, well. So much for simplicity.

Flash Gordon

Just a quick heads-up; the campy 1980 or 1981 or so movie Flash Gordon just got a DVD release a few weeks ago. When I went to go add that to our Blockbuster Online queue, I also found that the old Filmation cartoons for Flash Gordon have apparently also been released.

w00t! I mean, they're probably terrible, but I have very fond memories of them nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NOT running

At least not yet. We voted to continue our current campaign, which could take up to ten more sessions, although our DM thinks maybe he can pare it down to less.

So we deferred the decision on what we'll do next until we're closer to finishing this one. In any case, I'll still officially throw my hat in the ring when it comes to it.