Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Older DARK•HERITAGE Map

My son about to hit the overhang part of the rappel.
I'm back from my vacation in the Hocking Hills region of southern Ohio--a land of majestic Blackhand sandstone cliffs, ravines and "caves" (really rock shelters and overhangs mostly) covered with lush, green forest.  We stayed in a group camping area, and I got to do a fair bit of hiking--we hiked to Old Man's Cave, Ash Cave, Conkle's Hollow (rim loop), the Rock House, and the rock climbing and rappelling area of the Hocking Hills State Forest.  In addition, we floated in tubes down the Hocking River for a while until we got to a great old-fashioned swimming hole, with deep enough water to permit a serious rope swing off of a deck and cliff-jumping of about 30 feet or so.  We got quite a bit of rain on the last night there, and while we might have gone and done Cantwell Cliffs on Friday, honestly after a night of non-stop rain and being wet, everyone was kinda ready to just come home.

Stone bridge in the ravine at Old Man's Cave.
Also, my daughter has continued to improve dramatically, and is in great shape given this point in her recovery from her spinal fusion surgery.  I don't think she really accepts fully the notion that she's going to be in a lengthy recovery period and won't just be able to live life "as normal" for a few weeks exactly--but we're coming along.

So, with everything going relatively well in my private life now, all I have to do is get caught back up at work after being gone, and then I can settle back into a groove of sorts, which hopefully includes more blog posts.  I don't, however, have a lot to say right now... yet.  I'm not up to date on my Avengers episodes, I haven't finished a new book in weeks, and I don't really have any setting information ready to post right now either.  So, other than posting those few pictures of my trip, I only have a handful of minor updates.

Sunlight rays downstream from Old Mans' Cave.
First, I recently got a $100 Amazon gift card, and with that, I ordered a new Arkham Horror novel and several Paizo setting books--my first in many months.  These include Isles of the Shackles, Blood of Fiends, Blood of Angels, Magnimar, Lost Kingdoms and Distant Worlds.  This will mean a spate of new RPG related reviews in the near future.  I also, of course, have tons of fantasy, science fiction and even mainstream thriller fiction to review still, and that list has been shrinking depressingly slowly, and continues to be interrupted by stuff I get from the library.

And finally, because one of the books I'm reading is The Tarim Mummies by J. P. Mallory and Victor Mair, I recently pulled out this older geographical paradigm of the DARK•HERITAGE setting and am posting it for fun.  The geography was meant to be loosly based in the actual Tarim basin as the Strachina basin.  This is very loose (the Tiran basin, which corresponds to the Junggar Basin, for example, is twice as big relative to its real-life counterpart.)  If you've never heard of the Tarim basin, well--it was the "middle portion" of the Silk Road, which split at Kashgar and went along the northern edge of the basin or the southern.  Using this as a "calque" of a real-life geography, you can loosely associate features on my map with the following features on a real map:
  • Strachina Basin = Tarim Basin
  • Parete Mountains = Tien Shan Mountains
  • Tiran Basin = Junggar Basin
  • Rapire Mountains = Kunlun Mountains
  • Leng = Tibetan Plateau
  • Rharia = China
  • Komewan = Persia/Parthia
  • Shanerisha = India/Sindh
  • Razina = Kucha
  • Iclezza = Kashgar
  • Nevaz = Khotan
  • Sutaka = Loulan
  • Sutaka = Karashar (yes, I noticed that the name appears twice in two different locations)
  • Caerddyn = Turfan
  • Kvuustu = Hsiung-nu
As you can see, I've long been a fan of the map-making style popularized by Christopher Tolkien and included in pretty much every printing of The Lord of the Rings since I first read them thirty years or so ago.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Still living...

The content of posts I've been able to squeek out on this blog over the last month or so has probably been alarmingly anemic to any readers who are used to more.  For this I apologize, and blame an increased complexity of both work and "real life" issues that demand my attention.

These aren't all necessarily bad (I referenced a trip to the Smoky Mountains a few weeks ago, for example) but they do certainly make me much more busy, and they are not yet at a "normalized" rate.

I am happy to report that my daughter successfully underwent spinal fusion surgery yesterday.  While this will make my week very complicated--my wife is staying at the hospital with her, leaving me to handle work and three boys at home, who are luckily old enough to hold down the fort during the day without much in the way of supervisory phone calls to make sure everything's still alright at home.

And I will be traveling with my oldest son soon for a trip to the Hocking Hills state park in Ohio as well, as a chaperone for a post-Scouting summer activity kind of thing.

Meanwhile, work has been much busier than normal (although I've said that for so long now that maybe I just need to recalibrate what my expectation of "normal" means).  What all this means is that I probably won't get into a good swing of posting meaningful content--or at least not very much of it--for a few more weeks at least--probably not until mid to late August.  I do want to squeeze out some Avengers episode reviews, since I'm behind on that, I'd like to have a few book reviews posted--assuming I can finish the books in time to review them!

I'll also try to squeek out some DARK•HERITAGE setting material, or FRPG posts or something here and there too, but because those take more effort (and therefore time, which is at a premium right now) they will be a bit more infrequent than I'd like for a little bit longer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fantasy conventions

Fantasy today is almost overwhelmingly tinted by a few literary influences which, while not surprising, are hardly the entire gamut of available literary influences that it could have.  To a certain extent, this is becoming less true in fantasy fiction, as slightly more outre settings have made some headway in recent years in the market.  To a certain extent this is also true in the do-it-yourself RPG market, where "amateur" RPG designers release work via PDF.  Here I'm thinking of stuff like Weird Adventures, or Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque as two works that build off of something other than standard fantasy conventions.  And while nice examples, they are also not unique.  In mainstream gaming material, however, very conventional fantasy seems to be ubiquitous, and mainstream fantasy literature still puts out much more conventional fantasy than anything else.  And probably always will, until there's a major sea change in the genre.

The modern fantasy genre really starts with William Morris and George MacDonald, and as such, is heavily rooted in a late Northern and Western European Medievalist perspective, combined with some of the fairytales that would have been current during that same time to give it some supernatural spice, and the creation of a secondary world.  This high medieval coupled with fairytales approach is still one of the major influences in fantasy today.

Robert E. Howard and the rest of the sword & sorcery crowd, on the other hand, were big fans of an Orientalist approach to fantasy.  Clark Ashton Smith was a noted fan of the earlier novel Vathek, and H. P. Lovecraft went so far as to write more than one story that is sometimes considered almost a pastiche of Vathek. (The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath). In both cases, high medieval of northern and western Europe, or Orientalist approach, the elements of the past that were borrowed were, of course, highly romanticised, which also remains a common theme in fantasy today.

Tolkien, Lewis and his crowd were fans of "the Northern Thing"--unsurprising, given Tolkien's occupation.  Tolkien's romanticized Dark Age fantasy, complete with fairly transparent analogs of Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and lots of northern saga and mythological additions--famously elves and dwarves, of course have had an indelible mark on the genre, to the point where some folks think of elves and dwarves as almost synonomous with fantasy.

In some since, the romanticization has faded--the prevalence of much darker themes, anti-heroes and whatnot being a notable movement in fantasy today.  To some extent.  But otherwise, the notion that fantasy is kind of a mélange of viking sagas, high medieval romances, picaresque Orientalism and modernized mythology via a Tolkienian perspective is not.  Naturally, this is a fairly short list of major influences.  Why so short?  The only real sizeable exception to this is the low fantasy subgenre, which is flooding bookstores today with sometimes semi-romance supernatural modern era books, embodied by series like Anita Blake, Twilight, Dresden Files and more.

What's somewhat surprising to me is that the very rich and varied mode of adventure tales hasn't been better tapped to provide fantasy with a significantly different feel that this kind of Medievalist fairytale influenced fantasy.  Why isn't there really much in the way of Western influenced fantasy with cowboys and indians?  Swashbuckling fantasies with pirates or musketeers? Noir fantasy with hardboiled fantastic urban environments (actually, this is starting to gain some traction in just the last few years)? Spy fantasy, or cops and robbers fantasy?  This rich potential market is served, if at all, by very niche, DIY type products only.

Anyway, I'm not putting out a call for action, or anything, but just curious and thoughtful a little bit at this vast untapped sea of influences that could greatly enrich the fantasy genre--but which remains only lightly tapped today, for whatever reason.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Twenty Palaces society

I had borrowed two books from a friend of mine by one Harry Connelly, part of the Twenty Palaces series.  The Twenty Palaces series was cancelled after three books, and the author put out an ebook prequel as well.  That means that I've only read half of it, but I've read all that I have immediate access to and I might not continue for a while, so I figured now is a good time to review the Child of Fire and the Game of Cages.

Both of them are about a protagonist character Ray Lily (who's name sounds unfortunately like a plant that grows in my front flower garden).  Ray is a "wooden man", or decoy from a predator hunter who's a member of the Twenty Palaces society and a sorcerous peer.  Predators are Lovecraftian-like entities who come from dimensions beyond our own.  And the setting is rural Washington state for both books.

The friend of mine who let me borrow them knows that I'm a fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and when he suggested this to me and started describing them, I immediately focused on apparent points of similarity.  He kinda shook his head, and said, "no, they're really quite different."  I couldn't see it, based on his quick summary, but after reading the two books that I've read so far, I think I can definately see his point; there's a major although sometimes subtle difference between them.  Jim Butcher is urban fantasy.  The Twenty Palaces society is, rather, supernatural horror.  What does this mean?  Clearly the two are extremely similar.

See, there's a narrative structure and expected outcome of sorts in a fantasy series.  The heroes are meant to be "heroes" (or sometimes anti-heroes) and to some extent they are expected to "save the day."  There's a payoff expected at the end of the novel, a satisfying conclusion.  And, fantasy readers also expect to be at least a little indulged (usually subtly rather than in information dumps, which is almost uniformly condemned as bad writing) in terms of some setting description.  Even in the setting of the real world, urban fantasy has monsters and magic, and a series like the Dresden Files spends some time explaining the nature of that.  And, that's something that fantasy fans want and desire, and definately feel a lack if it's not done.

And that's where I think Harry Connelly does not really write urban fantasy, even though his books are marketed and sold as such (and even have the same cover artist as the Dresden books.)  These books are much darker.  Ray Lilly doesn't really "save the day" at all.  He barely limps by to maybe a Pyrrhic, depressing victory of sorts.  Maybe.  He also doesn't ever really know very much about the nature of magic or monsters, and those who do, won't tell him anything, so we as readers never really learn much either.

The fact that the books have been packaged and promoted as sorta Dresden Files esque in nature is a problem, because they're really not, and people who come looking for more fiction in that same vein are likely to be disappointed in these books.  If you look at it as more of... I dunno, a modernized Yog-Sothothery pastiche of sorts, on the other hand, may find them quite delightful.

Of course, you still have to deal with the fact that Ray Lily isn't the most engaging point of view character I've ever read, and he has very little chemistry or relationship even at all with any other character, making for a surprisingly impersonal read at times.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sandboxes or... something else?

One of the noisiest trends in the theory of how to run and play RPGs in the last few years or so is the notion of the "sandbox."  Taking its terminology from the world of video game design, a sandbox is a game mode in which the players can approach their environment with considerable freedom, and do what they want to do, and approach problems the way that they want to approach them.  This is often held in contrast to the "railroad", an older slang term amongst RPGers that refers to the notion that the GM has already mapped out the campaign, and the players can really only proceed when they manage to stumble across the "right" way to do so.

These common usages have gotten really sloppy, so that nearly any game is often percieved (or at least described) as one or the other, with no middle ground.  And since railroads are almost consistently villified as "not a very fun way to play", sandbox has become synonomous in some people's minds with "good."  I.e., any game that is good is, in fact, a sandbox, regardless of whether or not it really has any sandboxy qualities, or emphasizes them.  People also frequently ask nonsensical questions, like "which campaign setting for D&D is a good sandbox?", or "which version of D&D is a good sandbox game?" or stuff like that, regardless of the rather obvious fact that "sandbox" as a playstyle refers to how the game is actually run and played at the table, and has little if any connection to how the game is written.   Any game can be a sandbox if it's approached as such by the guy running the game, and any game can fail to be a sandbox by the same measure.  In my experience, the casual tossing around of the term sandbox is a blight on actual discussion, as it tends to act like a trawl, pulling out all kinds of One True Wayers who can't resist chiming in with their proclamations, which often have little if any relevance to the topic that one is attempting to discuss.

Although as a GM (and as a player) I demand and insist on a great deal of freedom, I don't consider myself a sandboxer, and am actually just as disinterested in a sandbox game as I am in a railroad game.  It's all well and good to say that in theory the players should drive the game by doing things that their characters are interested in, but in reality, this is a pipe dream for most gamers, at least until well into a campaign.  When a game starts, the players can hardly be expected to have a strong handle on their characters or their motivations, nor can they be expected to have engaged enough with the setting yet to expect anything from it.  Any campaign that doesn't start by giving players (and their characters) something immediate  to latch onto and have to deal with, as well as giving a decent explanation for why the various characters in play are sticking together as a group, is one that is off to a rough start, and is likely to fail to engage the players enough to even survive.  The fact of the matter is, players need some direction, especially early on in a campaign.  After a time, they need much less--and they can be expected to start driving towards things that they have taken an interest in over the course of play.  But when the game starts, that's not a reasonable expectation.  And frankly, "wandering around aimlessly hoping to encounter a game" is not a very compelling mode of play.  And for those who say that they want go-getter players who start the game already motivated to do something, well... OK... but how do you expect players to have motivations if they haven't yet had any engagement with the setting, other than really vague ones?  Even moreso, how do you expect the various players to all be on the same page in that regard?  Frankly, players like that seem a bit like a red flag to me.  Motivated and self-starting is fine... but that can easily migrate into pushy, bossy, and "ignore everything except my preconcieved notions of what I want this game to accomplish."  Which, needless to say, is not a good group dynamic.  In my experience, that usually means one player like that, and the rest who are rather easy-going and willing to follow along after the leader.  Any other group dynamic leads to conflict and ... well, not a fun experience in most cases.

On top of that, I, at least, demand something more from my campaigns that merely passive environments to interact with.  I find the notion of a sandbox to be boring and repetitive.  I came into gaming as a fan of fantasy fiction, and what appealed to me about it was its ability to resemble a collaborative, joint-venture fiction creating exercise.  In order for games to be engaging to me, I require villains, situations, and setting elements that are much more active, dynamic, and well-formed and "verisimilitudinistic" than a sandbox campaign is likely to provide.  And I also demand that campaigns have climaxes and denouments from time to time--a narrative structure that appeals to me greatly as a gamer as well.

Real sandbox junkies, at this point, will point out that a good sandbox GM can make all that happen and still maintain its sandbox integrity.  I'll point out that a good GM can make almost any kind of game fun, so that's kind of a meaningless statement.  The fact is that the sandbox ideal makes what I want out of the game less likely to happen, and significantly so.  This doesn't mean, as I've been forced to explain many times, that I like railroads.  I despise them just as much, and if anything, am almost over-the-top on my insistance that player choice be a major factor in how any game plays out.  But a pure, ideal sandbox is not the game for me either; I find either endpoint of that ideological spectrum on how gaming should be run to be equally unappealing.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Samettia

While Calça is famously the "lost province" on the northern extreme of the Terrasan world, the fact is that to the east of Calça is a broad frontier zone where terrasan, drylander and balshatoi influences all come together.  This stretches for hundreds of miles through the Bisbal forest, the northern portions of the Volo and Tec River valleys and the Garriga mountains, and even the very northern edge of the Shifting Forest.  Never claimed by Terrasan or drylander empires either one, and never settled by the tribesmen, who prefer the more open territories just to the north, culturally it's a mêlange, but politically, it's always been a number of independent farms, villages and small towns.

Life in this frontier zone is tough.  Not only is the terrain often difficult--thick forests, or green, forested and nearly impassible mountains make up much of it, but Untash raiders, xenophobic shifters, and roving bands of outlaws and marauders threaten anyone who would settle here.  Most of those who do are in fact outlaws, criminals, runaway slaves, army deserters--or otherwise outcasts who cannot return to the society from which they fled.  Some few, however, have set up would-be utopias--social experiments meant to eschew the way of life of their parent culture and develop something else.  One of the most successful of these is Samettia.

Founded by Grisende Mignard three hundred years ago, it has become a radical and militant force on the frontier that few are willing to tussle with.  Grisende was herself the product of a radical experiment generations in the making; her great-great-grandfather being a famous practitioner of animal husbandry who arranged the marriage of his children along similar theories, practicing a form of eugenics.  His heirs continued his "work" and by the time of Grisende, the women in the family were little more than brood mares, kept locked up and almost constantly pregnant from the time that they first showed signs of puberty until they were no longer usable.  Hating her cruel father, Grisende murdered him before she could be similarly raped and impregnated (she was only 11) and fled with as many of her female aunts, cousins, sisters and nieces as she could convince to leave their home behind.  Developing a theory of radical feminism, they founded their utopian city of Samettia in the northern Garriga Mountains, in a valley later called Grisende's Cove.  Adopting and adapting the idea of eugenics, and augmenting it with alchemical "steroids" and other substances, Samettia has developed into one of the most radical and frightening places for a man to be. 

Men have no real place in Samettian society at all.  Men are kidnapped or taken captive in raids (either by the Samettians themselves on their neighbors or by their neighbors on Samettia, either one) and if they meet the Matrons' strict inspection, they are repeatedly raped and then murdered by a number of women, to ensure future generations of Samettians.  Ritual medicine/magic ensures that few if any boys are ever born to Samettian women--those that do are usually raised as seers and priests, seen to be spiritual in the different way than women will be.  If there are already enough future priests in the "pipeline" then any boys unfortunate enough to be born at such a time are summarily killed.

Bitter and resentful of the way she was treated as a child, Grisende's utopian society was designed around ensuring that the women of Samettia could never be exploited by men again.  Fiercely independent, fearsome warriors, and with a merciless attitude, the utopian lifestyle envisioned by these women is one of nearly constant discipline, toil, training and work--a radical feminist Sparta, if you will.  The Samettians eschew much in the way of artistic or "high cultural" endeavors, although their city is well-built, defensible, practical and self-sufficient.  In the evenings, the women gather in semi-subterranean longhouses in small groups for shared meals, music, stories, and talking.  During the day, all able-bodied citizens of Samettia spend at least three hours in weapons training and exercise.  While farming is done in Grisende's Cove, much of the meat that the women of Samettia eat is hunted wild game--deer, squirrel, and turkey making up the majority of it, supplemented by farm-raised beef, mutton, and pork.  The Samettians don't really have a tradition of horsemanship, and keep few horses.  Their heavily wooded and often steeply sloped hills and mountains are not ideal terrain for horsemanship in any case.

The native language of Samettia is a dialect of north Terrasan.  However, women of various ethnicities have been allowed to join the community, and the method by which the women of Samettia are impregnated by various captive men both have led to genetic diversity that is extraordinarily high in the Three Empires region.  This means that describing the "typical" Samettian physically is somewhat difficult.  Well-formed, usually with bronzed skin and dark hair and eyes, a great deal of variety in coloration of skin, hair, and eyes, as well as stature and shape of the face exist among the population.  The use of alchemical "steroids" does, however, favor a muscular and often tall or bulky build; Samettian women tend to be as large and as strong as most men elsewhere--although some are bred specifically for speed or stealth, and instead have a rangy build.  This continued "women husbandry" eugenics program, as it is called, has divided the Samettians into castes--although those who show aptitude and desire to belong to a different caste other than what they are born and bred for are permitted to change caste without too much fanfare or difficulty--the primary driver being aptitude and capability of performing in the desired caste's role in society.

Samettians usually wear very little in the warmer seasons--just harnesses and belts for the holding of weapons, pouches and other gear, as well as a lightweight cloak to cover up with in the event of rain or a cool front.  In the winter, buckskin leggings and tops, as well as thicker fur cloaks and vests keep them warm.  Higher in the Garriga Mountains, the weather gets colder, and there is frequent precipitation in the region, but in the lowlands, freezing temperatures are more infrequent and don't last very long.

Samettians also frequently wear odd jewelry that is attached via adhesives directly to the skin, and practice extensive henna-tattoing.  In most cases, this is to make themselves either more beautiful or more intimidating, although in this culture, intimidating is often seen as a mark of beauty.

Samettians have (usually) little desire to leave their utopia except on hunting or raiding expeditions.  The education process of Samettia inculcates a fear and loathing of society outside of their own, making the Samettians perhaps the most xenophobic community in the entire Three Empires region--surpassing even that of the Shifting Forest changelings.  Trespassers, if not kidnapped for rape and murder, are instead summarily hunted and killed.  In recent years, however, there have been some attempts at developing some ties with the outside world, mostly to ensure that their utopia is not threatened.  Ambassadorial delegations have appearred in Simashki, Iclezza and Segrià, as well as among the Untash and Tazitta tribal councils, and some Samettian warriors have hired themselves out as guards or soldiers on rare occasions.  And occasionally one is born with curiousity and wanderlust and just wants to see the world outside of the confined area in which they live in the northern Garriga highlands.  And of course, sometimes outlaws and outcasts make their way out of the core Samettian country and into other lands as well.  As the community becomes more involved in the outside world, there are more and more of these happening--although some of the more brutal ways of the past are also being slowly softened.  Many Samettian women are now impregnated by willing men in their own lands who are met by traveling groups of Samettian women.  Rather than being killed, they are thanked cordially and allowed to go back to their lives.  And more and more, any boys born to Samettian women--few though their numbers may be--are no longer euthanized, but instead fostered to families outside of the community.

Despite this gradual softening of the harder edges of Samettian society, it is still a harsh place, and one that is whispered about with fear and awe by those who live outside of its borders.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Back from vacation!

I have been out of town and almost completely off the grid the last week and a half, but I'm back as of last night and getting into the saddle again today.  While becoming unburied at work will no doubt consume much of my time in the next few days, I do anticipate getting back into the swing of things with some of the post series I've been trying to keep up with, including new Avengers episodes reviews and new DARK•HERITAGE setting related details.

Before that, though, a quick recap of my trip.  While I've been almost effusive of my love of the scenery and wilderness areas of the American west and Southwest, the Rockies, the Colorado Plateau, the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades, in particular.  But for this trip, I got to explore southern Appalachia, specifically the part of eastern Tennessee (and a little bit of western North Carolina) that make up the Great Smokies Mountains.  Compared to the Rockies or the Sierras, the Appalachians are low, relatively rounded, and thickly overgrown with hardwood forests and thick, lush understory.  They're also quite a bit warmer, and quite a bit more crowded; the Great Smokies National Park has 9 million visitors a year on average--more than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone combined.  There are times when the winding road TN 73 feels like bumper to bumper traffic through the park.  And the hikes that I did were some of the most popular, so I rarely felt like I got as much solitude as I would like.

I also wasn't there specifically to visit the park; in fact, I was there for a family reunion of my wife's family.  So I really only got to spend two days doing things in the national park itself.  That said, I'm not disappointed in what I got to do, and it whetted my appetite for more.  Surely the Appalachians are an unappreciated (by me at least; clearly the visitation numbers don't support this as a general statement) gem in the scenic lexicon of the US.  And while I do have some scenic analogs to the Appalachians in the DARK•HERITAGE setting, I've kinda underplayed their role up 'til now.  That may change, as I have come to a better appreciation for the place after seeing it in person instead of just as photos.

That said, I have photos.  May as well include them.  These are off my phone; I don't have the camera handy.  As such, they mostly focus on two hikes that I did with a limited group.  One hike was just me, my ten year old son, and my ten year old nephew.

Soaking feet in the ice-cold water of Alum Creek.

My son and my daughter from a high vantage point.  The Smokies were unusually clear during our trip; in fact, they didn't even "smoke" at all.

The Alum "Cave" Bluffs

Two of my sons and my nephew posing on the Appalachian Trail.

View from the observation deck on top of Clingman's Dome; the highest point in the park and the third highest in the entire Appalachian system, and east of the Rockies.


Then, on the way back home, while crossing Ohio north to south on I-75, we had more than our share of drama and tragedy.  This accident happened literally just a minute or two before we reached the scene.  There were already half a dozen vehicles stopped to assist when we passed it so we didn't contribute to the general chaos by rubbernecking or interfering when we had nothing to offer at that point, but there's nothing quite like seeing a dead and mangled body on the side of the road to put a disturbing twist on any road trip.  Shortly after that--literally less than 15 minutes, I think, we were sidelined by some of the worst storms I've ever seen--we pulled off the Interstate at Tipp City and waited it out for a while, noticing that trees were down, power was out, and the wind and rain were almost unbelievably strong--or would be if I haven't lived in territory that isn't far from a hurricane prone coastline.  Apparently, the impact of the storm was bigger than just local, and President Obama has even been prompted to declare a state of emergency in Ohio in the wake of it.

Not that inconveniencing my drive home is the point of any of those things, of course, but certainly they left me feeling a bit disassociated in the wake of this particular vacation.  I didn't necessarily sleep very well last night, despite being exhausted.