Going Postal: Reunion, Trading Hats and Orcs in the Driver’s Seat!

[This is recounting of the May 14th, Martha’s Vineyard, Birthday Session. I did not record the audio of this session, not having the appropriate tools–there were a few technical issues. So this is all based on memory still green and my attempts to reconstruct things from Roll20’s chat log. There is also a lot of wholesale invention and putting words into player character’s mouths.

Anyway, we had folks from Chiang Mai, Seattle, Silverton and Martha’s Vineyard. More than full attendance with Toby, Ian, Ralph, Mike, both Johns, Demo and Erol.]

Reunion

A map section of Waylon's waterfront. Highlighted in blue is RPA Headquarters. Highlighted in red is Maceo's nightclub and public house.It was the 27th of Rain, just after two days of regrouping from prior forays into Nightfang Spire. In response to Hinkwe’s request for more help, the Postmen are introduced to two other agents: Hit Phar and Chingara Slashgood.

Hit Phar was of their original number, from their early days nearly three years ago. Around that time, for reasons still unclear but perhaps having to do with his suddenly acquired literacy, he left field work and took a job in the DLO.An illustration of Thanator

The Dead Letter Office was a largely unnoticed arm of the Postal Ministry but it was one that Ellen I insisted on when she instituted the Royal Postal Authority nearly 10 years ago. For the last eight years the DLO has been under the command of a strange undead creature, named Thanator. Anyway, about 7 months into his new job, which generated Siberian Cabin in the Dead of Winter levels of boredom, Hit Phar vanished without trace and had been missing until just yesterday.

An illustratiion of Sir Chingara Slashgood. Copyright Milo Barasorda.Sir Chingara Slashgood, was only known to Sir Stirge. A knight of the Circus, the elf ranger–yet another one!–was one of a handful elite archers in all of Udra; Hinkwe and Lingerhol being the other two. Since the Circus left active service over five years ago, Slashgood had been pouring all his stipend into supporting a highly respected martial arts school in the city of Lanth. Between this school and his care for the Circus’ pet elephant, Whirlwind, Sir Chin had very little time or interest in anything else.

But when Lady Hilda, the Baroness of Jars and Postmistress General, gave a command, the rest of the Circus, retired or not, jumped. And so did Chin. That was why the Postmen greeted Chin and Hit on the early morning of the 27th, in the stuffy, book filled office of Lady Hilda.

A photo of a Moroccan woman. This is my attempt depict what Lady Hilda looks like in Udra court finery.“I got you the help you wanted for removing Nightfang Spire from the Queen’s Map, Agent Dolsalkhdie. Agent Phar and First Agent Slashgood should be sufficient. I believe you all know each other so, it should be easy for you all to work together,” Lady Hilda said crisply, clearly preoccupied with other matters, “Now, if there is nothing else, I’ll leave you all to catch up and plan your next sally.” and she turned on the ball of her foot and left her office before Hinkwe had any chance to object or say anything.

“Big Hit! It’s been years! Where’ve you been, man?!” Maceo shouted enthusiastically.

You could almost see the gears turning in the blond half-orc’s head before he answered, “In a really hot jungle.”An illustration of two orcs in a jungle. Neither of these orcs look like Hit Phar, who is blonde and green.

“What? So were we, on the manhunt for Chebo the Drowned. They sent you to Nyambe too?”

Phar held up a hand, “It wasn’t Nyambe. It was called Yin-Sloth. I think was helping another postman.”

Maceo, who had become an excellent historian and geographer, never heard of Yin-Sloth but didn’t follow up and, Phar was unwilling or unable to explain further. The reunion between Stirge and Chin was even more laconic, just a handshake and a knowing grin.

Hinkwe tried his best to brief the new agents on what they faced: a colony of magic destroying spiders, evidently in cahoots with a vampire cult bent of restoring a prehistoric god. But Hit and Chin really only seemed interested in knowing if the enemies could be struck by weapons; which they could. Despite this, and despite wondering if Hit Phar’s skill had actually improved over the last 3 years, Hinkwe had heard many stories of Chin’s exploits for the RPA and felt reassured, “Fair enough. Let’s go to the mess hall, partake of Crondussa’s Feast and then teleport to the Nightspire crypts. Postmen, it’s time to get to work!

An animated GIF depicting a recursive fly though smaller and smaller cells of a Menger Sponge
As noted in the image above, Mr. Hedgerow has some very odd ideas about interior design.

It was in the mess that Bussell Hedgerow joined them. The halfling sorcerer, always with some side-project during down time, had spent the last two days magically providing fine food and beautiful shelter for Waylon’s vagrants and indigent. Bussell had several reasons for doing this–to help those in need, to improve his reputation but mostly to try out various interior decorating ideas. He partook of Crondussa’s feast and was ready to do battle with Nightfang’s monsters.

A photo of food in a restaurant in Thailand. Because if there really was a food of the gods, it would be Thai, Indian, Chinese, Carribean or from ItalyAs they ate, the Postman discussed various plans and ways to counter spider attacks.

An idea had been turning around in Hinkwhe’s brain for several weeks: how was it possible for the spellgaunts to elude his elfin senses and ambush the Postmen repeatedly? Maceo had given him a possible answer: invisibility. The spiders had used potions or cast spells to make themselves invisible and then compounded that by hiding with the perfect stillness of highly intelligent, supernatural arachnids. Hinkwe had kept missing them simply due to overconfidence. His eyes and ears were so good, he never considered using the magical ability to see invisible things.  Maceo, who often stayed in the squad’s rearguard, never saw the creatures until it was too late.

Trading Hats

An illustration of what I imagine a headband of true sight looks like. But not this time around! Before teleportation, Hinkwhe and Maceo exchanged magical headgear. The gnome’s headband granted the ability of true sight; this also included the ability to see invisibly hidden creatures. With that headband Hinkwhe, always in the van, would hopefully spot waiting spellguant ambushes.

This would later prove to be a pivotal decision.

An illustration of crypts or catacombs. Nightfang Spire's crypts look a lot like this.Frickalind, Maceo and Bussell cast various defensive magic on the squad. Augmenting potions were drunk. Spells were cast. The Postman folded space right back to the antechamber just outside the double doors Frickalind had sent her five elementals through two days before.

The doors had been burned away and, in the room beyond them there were spider footprints, burnt patches and clear signs of battle everywhere. Hinkwe walked into the room and, with his headband, saw deeply down a twisting tunnel, some 90 feet to his east at least 4 spellgaunts clutching the ceiling, hidden in invisible ambush. He took a few steps further and looked into the twisting cave to his south and saw another spider, as motionless as a corpse, invisibly waiting in the passageway.

Knowing the locations of two ambushes, and knowing the there were probably more spiders hidden behind cover, Hinkwhe returned to the others and called out some code words, hidden in boasts and banter. At last, the element of surprise finally belonged to the Queen’s Post!

An illustration of a giant spider by David A Trampier. The fight looked something like this. The plan was to have the archers and spell casters stand in the fork of the east and south tunnels to cover both passages, cast invisibility purge then have Stirge and Hit fly into battlelust and engage the enemy in shock.

Hinkwe, Lingerhol, Chingara and Betty walked back into the cave. Hink stopped and bent to pretend he was looking at some debris and, with an excellent feint and elfin speed, unleashed a volley of three arrows into the spider to his south, wounding it seriously. The remainder of his arrows he shot into the four spiders to his east, one arrow each.

A photo of the tarot heirophant. Copyright, Wheel of Fortune Tarot Project. I imagine Frickalind looks like this sometimes.Frickalind, some ten or fifteen feet behind Hinkwe, cast the invisibility purge, which rendered all the spiders visible, if still hidden–less so now that many had arrows sticking out of them. From a position just fore of Hinkwe, Lingerhol cut loose with a full salvo of arrows into the wounded spellgaunt to the south. This killed it. Chingara pushed out in front of all the other archers and shot a fullisade at a newly revealed, unharmed spider to the south.

Maceo, sang an ode of Hit Phar’s early exploits against the whooshes at sea and magically augmented the half-orc Postman with confidence, skill and durability. The gnome, knowing his defensive and augmentative magic was critical to success, elected to hang back behind Frickalind as the rest of the Postmen advanced.

Stirge, greatly relieved that he’d see some action now that surprise was on their side, went joyously berserk, ran east, down the tunnel, into the group of four spellgaunts Hinkwe’s arrows pointed out. He drove a mighty swing of his axe, viciously splitting the abdomen of his opponent. He didn’t kill it in one stroke but, it was a good start!

Hit Phar, not at all willing to be out-orked by Stirge, also went mad with battlelust, charged down the same tunnel as Stirge and struck one of the four spellguants with a brutal swing of another two-handed axe.  It wasn’t a fatal blow but, again, it was a good start.

Betty drew up behind Hink and Linger and shot her arrows into the spider Stirge had tried to divide but it still did not drop.

Bussell's induced cave in looked a lot like this.Bussell boldly flew down the tunnel Stirge and Hit were in, saw that they were flanked by two more spellgauts hitherto hidden in a niche to the north. The halfling sorcerer decided to even those odds by polymorphing the surrounding rock of their niche into mud.  The spiders were crushed and wounded badly by several tons of mud, muck and rubble. They were also buried several feet deep into the mud below their feet. It would take them a while to crawl out of that.

This all happened in mere seconds before the spiders realized their ruse had been seen through. The Postmen kept the initiative as the spiders confusedly tried to regroup and the battle went quickly after that.

Between the axes of Hit and Stirge the four spellgaunts in the east tunnel quickly fell before even having a chance to bite, disjoin or rend. Bussell simply polymorphed the mud and rubble he’d created back into stone, killing the two spiders in the northern niche instantly. Betty, Chin, Hink and Linger made quick work of the remaining spider to the south.

It was true, the element of surprise could turn a battle.

Orcs in the Driver’s Seat!

But the battle was over too quickly for Stirge, whose brain was still aswim in bloodlust. Remembering a northern door they’d bypassed, Stirge roared incoherently, ran back and kicked it in. Finding himself in a corridor running north with four doors, two on each side, the former pirate frantically stove in each in his insane drive for more things to fight!

Each doorway only revealed a empty, looted crypt–boring! But the northwestern door lead to an empty crypt that at least had another door in it! Stirge wasted no time; he kicked it in to find another corridor with another door at the end of it, which he stove in and–and so on and so on. Hit Phar, also psychotic with rage, dimly thought that Stirge was on to something and, being the only one in the party fast enough to keep up, sprinted after his fellow wildman.

A photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger, at his California surfer boy best, in Conan the Barbarian.
“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.” –Robert E. Howard

“What a fucking bore it would be if that were actually true, Bobbie.” –Pace Arko

This lead the Postmen on a mad chase, after the two psychotic half-orcs, through a good eight or so doors, and as many rooms, corridors, and possible loot, before Stirge finally exhausted himself at the ninth door and still not finding a worthy opponent.

The next room briefly brought the orcish rampage up short. The chamber was covered in elaborate black and white parquet tiles, many of which were cracked or broken. The tiles which were whole, detailed tiny reliefs of stylized faces aflame with mouths open, burning in agony. Hanging from the ceiling was pitted iron sculpture of an unrecognizable species of dragon with a five foot wingspread. Below the dragon sculpture, was an alter of red veined white marble. The alter was inscribed with thinly incised, subtle Draconic runes.

But Hit Phar, still in the grip of his bloodlust, could not have given a drunkard’s cuss about all the religious paraphernalia. He only interested in resuming Stirge’s door destroying dash!Animated GIF of President Barack Obama ending the war in Afghanistan.

He leaped towards the northeastern door to the next room, only to trigger a trap! A huge block of stone fell, Hit Phar and several others narrowly dodged its impact. After the stone fell, it blocked the next door so, Hit, cursing at the tuckered out Stirge to help him and grabbing an pry bar offered by Hinkwe–who by this point knew far better than to argue with an battle-mad half-orc pastoralist!–began to yank at the huge block to move it out of the way. Hit and Stirge both had supernatural strength but, even still, it took a few minutes for them to move the block aside.

During that time, Bussell, who could read Draconic, read the inscription, mentally broadcasting it to everyone by way of the message spell:

“What surpasses Ashardalon,
Is more despicable than the Great Wyrm;
The poor have it,
The rich need it,
If eaten, death follows?”

Upon Bussell reading this question to the entire squad, an overwhelming mental command descended over all of them, even Stirge and Hit. They all felt compelled to answer it.

Luckily, the answer was a bit obvious: “Nothing.” So all of the Postmen either said, “nothing” or decided not to vocalize at all. It never occurred to any of them to give any other kind of answer. Frickalind, who suspected a trap and who certainly didn’t want to pledge herself to any prehistoric death cult of demonstrated evil, didn’t speak but, apparently not saying anything still counted as a correct answer.

After the right answer was given, or abstained from, pale, bone yellow beams of energy flashed out from the altar to strike each of the Postmen. These beams were staggeringly painful and wounded them all without leaving a mark. The squad grunted, howled or wailed as one; each was surprised the beams didn’t kill them instantly. Crondussa’s Feast helped them greatly on that score.

But Hit could not be diverted! With the prybar he finally jerked the block of stone aside, breaking it. If the halfling wasn’t still recovering from the beam’s effects, Bussell would have smirked at this as he had considered disintegrating the block only a minute ago, before the altar’s description took his attention.

Wasting no time, Hit kicked the door in!

The next room contained a single sarcophagus in the center with dust, dirt and debris were scattered around the room. But there were no opponents so, Hit immediately ran to the northeast of two doors to kick it in.

An illustration of a Cadaver Collecting golem. This revealed another single crypt of similar design to the one Hit just ran through. But this time there was an enemy! Bursting clumsily from the sarcophagus, was another one of those golems with spikes, spindles, steel and flesh. Aside from Hit and Chin, the Postmen had seen creatures like this one weeks before as they cleared the tower above the crypts. Thanks to Crondussa’s Feast, and the strength of the Postmen, Ashardlon’s wounding beams had only weakened them slightly so, a clash ensued.

The creature blew out a huge cloud of paralysis gas, which everyone managed to shrug off. Knowing that these automatons were especially vulnerable to sound, Betty decided to hold her arrows until after Frickalind cast her sound burst.  Frickalind did this and slowed the golem enormously.

As the Postmen still had the benefits of Maceo’s haste, they all proceeded to wail on the creature in the hopes to destroy it.

[And that’s where we left off, in the middle of combat]

My Most New Wave of T-Shirts

Long ages of the Earth ago, in 1982, when I was 19, my mother bought me a t-shirt for my birthday (Or was it Christmas?) that had this single panel illustration on it as a sort of a parody of Mary Worth or something:
weirdosOnly, in that oh-so-eighties-style, the lines were pink and the background (The t-shirt itself) was black. Never ever learned who drew it or if it was art for a band or not. The t-shirt was a cotton/poly blend and essentially pilled itself into the trash 30 years ago.

For me, if the irony of American life hadn’t begun with Dr. Strangelove, the Dead Kennedys and Steve Martin, it probably would have began here.

Going Postal: The Spider Swarm!

[This session happened on April the 30th, 2016, a Saturday. This was because I would be traveling out of state on May Day. With a few late arrivals and some technical issues as others got used to doing teleconferencing through Roll20, Toby, JB, Ralph, Mike, Ian and Demo were in attendance.

What’s transcribed here is mostly 7 game rounds–roughly equal to about a minute of hard fighting. The session was more than five hours long, most of it taken up with the combat. There was additional character actions before and after the battle so this represented about hour of campaign time.]

A section of the map of Udra, showing where Nightfang is located.The day after resurrecting Betty Davis, the Troubleshooters, expecting further disjunction attacks from the spellgaunt coloney in Nightfang Spire, made a few adjustments to their magical gear. Hinkwe in particular bought some magical tricks to use on the spellgaunts. Stirge was irritated that his planned trip to Grandma Grumpsalot was being delayed once again and considered buying Maceo the Pipes of the Sewers as joke gift, even though it wasn’t the gnomish bard’s birthday.

Even with their RPA priority the equipment took a day to arrange so, on the third day back in Waylon, they consumed the Heroes Feast and teleported back to the catacombs to continue their press to find Gulthias. The teleportation deposited them outside the door the lead into what they suspected was the heart of the spellgaunt colony.

An illustration of a spellgaunt. Copyright Brain Despain, Wizards of the CoastMaceo, Bussell and Frickalind activated their invisibility spells and rings. Frickalind scryed for undead and found nothing she also invoked the divine favor of Crondussa. Bussell cast flight on himself and scryed for secret doors only to find nothing. Stirge drank a potion of protection from evil. Hinkwe activated his boots of flight, cast bear’s endurance on himself and magically augmented his low light vision. Maceo caste haste on the whole squad and many other defensive magics were cast besides. Hinkwe listened at the door and heard nothing but noticed that the door was barred on the other side.

“Of course it’s a trap.” he muttered. With the chime of opening he opened the door, nocked three arrows and drew his string back, ready to shoot anything that jumped out at him. As the revealed room’s ceiling allowed for it, once past the doorway, he floated in about ten feet above the floor

A screenshot of the room Hinkwe opened and where the spell gaunts attacked him.It was a trap. Four spiders sprang out from their hiding places on the ceiling, dispelling their invisibility to attack the elf ranger! But Hinkwe was ready and quicker. He shouted the word of arrow-mind, magic which gave the power to use his missiles in close quarters and to avoid opportunity melee strikes. He fired his first group of three arrows into the spider to his Northwest. The volly struck brutally; the spider’s ichor splashed widely. With unnatural speed, thanks to Maceo’s hasting and his own training, Hinkwe drew and fired one, two, three and four more arrows after that. All of them sank home but the spider was tough and did not fall.

The two spiders to his South fired their magic webs at Hinkwe but the elf dodged them easily. The two spiders to his East and West raked and tore at him with their claws and mandibles. One of the spiders stumbled clumsily in its attack but the other struck the elf with vicious precision and Hinkwe was seriously wounded. The spiders moved in closer to surround him.

Illustration of the brutal effects of chained lightning.The elf’s shouts and arrow strikes roused the rest of the squad from their surprise and they all rushed to attack the spiders. There was a loud clap of thunder as Frickland cast a bolt of lightning through all four spiders around the elf, badly charring the spider to Hinkwe’s East but, all the spiders were burned and blasted to varying degrees.

Maceo started an inspiring song of courage and took cover to the East of the door outside of the room where Hinkwe was. Driven by the song of courage and his arrow mind, Hinkwe dispatched the badly charred spider and then dashed over the corpse, eastwards, towards the center of the room.

As the spiders were concealed from his present position, Lingerhol stepped foward to a mark where he could shoot freely through the door at one of the three remaining spellgaunts, which he did, wounding the creature lightly.

An illustration showing the cave in that Bussell caused. Bussell used the spell of polymorph any object to transmute the surrounding rock in the ceiling above and the floor directly below the spiders to mud. There was a huge rumbling clatter as seven or eight tonnes of mud, gravel, sand and debris gave way to come down on the spellgaunts. They were all crushed grievously and buried in and under a huge pile of muck, rubble and sand. Despite the huge displacement of rock, the crypt walls held and didn’t cave in any further.

The three spiders were very badly wounded by this attack but their strength and toughness was such that they could struggle free of the rocks and mud to spray webbing at both Stirge and Lingerhol, entangling them both. Somewhere inside Stirge a tiny flame began to grow.

Betty stepped forward to fire her bow at the foremost spider wounding  but not killing it.

An illustration of a berserk, flaming half-orc former pirate!At first Stirge used the Axe of Compassion to vigorously saw away at the webbing he was covered in. This failed to work so, in growing frustration and desperation, Stirge dumped a flask of oil on himself and set it alight, hoping to burn the web away. The berserk’s rage was upon him. “IF YOU WANNA LIVE, GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!” he bellowed.

Frickalind couldn’t help herself and began to giggle uncontrollably at Stirge’s semi-psychotic meltdown. But, stifling this, she then dropped a flame strike down on three of the spiders burning them severely.

Maceo followed this with a cacophonic burst, killing one of the spiders. Hinkwe cut down one more with a salvo from his bow and Lingerhol’s volley finished off the last one.

Screenshot of Bussell and Hinkwe surrounded by SpellgauntsBussell flew invisibly into the room using divination to find secret doors but he found none. His arcane sight revealed a source of moderately strong magic in an alcove in the Southwest of the room. But he didn’t have time to investigate as more spellgaunts sprang from their invisible hiding places to surround him and Hinkwe.

One of the spiders attempted to snatch Hinkwe’s bow away from him but failed. It did not fail to rake him with its two claws though. Two spiders attempted destroy his magic cloak with their bites but failed. And the last spider on Hinkwe attempted to destroy his bow, not bothering to snatch it away but this failed. Regardless, the spiders claw attacks had chipped away much of the elf ranger’s vitality. If this kept up he wouldn’t much last longer! “They’re like locusts! They just keep coming!” he shouted angrily.

Even though Bussell was invisible the spiders could sense the magic gear he was wearing. They hungered for its energy! As Bussell was flying, both the spiders bit at his boots but Bussell’s will was sufficient to resist the destructive attack. Bussell was not so lucky as the claws raked him, wounding him moderately. Betty ran into the room where Bussell and Hinkwe were surrounded and fired an arrow into the crotch between two of the forearms of a spider. This crippled the strength of the limbs on side of the creature’s body.

Stirge was thinking of executing a maneuver like what's depicted in this image.
In this case it was half-elves instead of halflings but, you get the idea.

Since Lingerhol foolishly continued to stand next to the burning, berserk former pirate, despite the shouted warning to not do so, Stirge picked him up, ran into the room with him and then threw him at the nearest spider! Lingerhol, as an improvised missile, was as badly bruised and contused as the spider!

Frickalind dashed into the room, took a position in the southwest corner, near Bussell’s pile of muck and rubble, and smote three spiders with a flame strike, scalding all three. A screenshot from the movie Alien, where Ellen Ripley incinerates Captain Dallas.Maceo, feeling a pang of guilt for laughing at Stirge’s use of Lingerhol as a missile, began a song of Lingerhol’s heroics. The magic of the song infused the half-elf ranger with confidence, talent and skill.

Hinkwe, who’d been airborne since the battle started, fired a salvo of four at the spellgaunt directly to his east, killing the spider instantly. His remaining arrows wounded the spider to his  northeast. He then lit atop on the dead spider’s body, preventing the spiders from surrounding Bussell and himself. Having recovered from his rough treatment, Lingerhol dashed to the southwest but, not before the spider to his east stretched out to bite his bow. This destroyed its magic. Lingerhol spat out a curse and fired an arrow at the spellgaunt who destroyed his bow wounding it lightly.

Invisible and airborne, the halfling sorcerer, Bussell Hedgerow flew towards his pile of muck and rubble. He easily dodged as the weakened spellgaunt to his west attempted to snap its mandibles at his magic boots. Bussell wheeled about and, with loud bang and rush of air, disintegrated the spellgaunt just northwest of Hinkwe!

An illustration of Betty Davis, right hand of Maceo Eh Xous!A spider slashed at Betty with its claws and mandibles wounding her severely. Another came at Lingerhol wounding him badly as well. Two spellgaunts lunged at Hinkwe drawing serious wounds. The master bowman would not be able to stand another attack like that!

Gritting her teeth in pain, and keenly aware that she was barely five feet from a berserk half-orc, Betty stepped to one side and unleashed a fullisade of arrows at the spider directly to her east. This wounded the creature she’d crippled earlier but she did not slay it.

Illustration of Stirge Barnaclesucker. Copyright Milo BarasordaThe only trauma Sir Stirge Barnaclesucker had experienced in this battle was his own self-immolation and his comrades, knowing better than to stand in his way, cleared a path for him. As his fire sputtered out, he strode up and, with two brutal swings of the Axe of Compassion, slew the spellgaunt he thrown Lingerhol into seconds earlier.

Frickalind, knowing that Hinkwe was badly hurt, called on Crondussa to heal most of the elf’s wounds. Maceo expanded his tune about Lingerhol to include Hinkwe and Betty. They all were magically infused with the confidence, durability and competence they’d need to continue the fight.

Healed and empowered, Hinkwe shot a group of three arrows at the spellgaunt to his north slaying it. He then shot another four arrows at the spider to his south wounding it badly. Lingerhol, even though he felt magically empowered by Maceo’s music, felt the wise choice was to withdraw from Stirge’s whims and melee with the spiders. He retreated to a safe corner in the northwest, near the rubble Bussell made.

Since it worked so well seconds ago, Bussell decided to disintegrate another spellgaunt. But despite having much of its chiton blown into vapor and having holes over its body, the spider withstood the spell! It was very badly wounded; it would be a cinch to kill the creature with a sword swing or a few arrows.

A screenshot of the crypt battle after Frickalind summoned her two fire elementals. It seemed like the agents of the Royal Postal Authority were making progress in defeating these creatures or, that would have been the case, if two more didn’t spring from their magical invisibility to attack! Hinkwe was bit by two spiders, wounding him seriously. Betty was also bitten but only wounded lightly. Stirge easily dodged a spellgaunt trying to bite him. Frickalind was not so lucky and was wounded lightly by a bite.

After Betty withdrew from melee, Stirge found himself in the middle of what was sometimes called “a target rich environment.” Surrounded by spellgaunts, Stirge wound up his the Axe of Compassion. Four of his five vicious axe swings threw bug guts everywhere but the easternmost spider, who was not wounded when it sprang for its invisibility seconds ago, was still standing!

Luckily her wound was a small one, so Frickalind was able to grit her teeth and focus on a ritual to summon two fire elementals to battle the spellgaunts. There were bursts of fire as the elementals set many of the spiders alight. Concealed beyond the crypt’s northern doorway, Maceo started a dirge. The music drained the spider’s brawn and agility.

An illustration of Hinkwe unleashing three chances at death!Hinkwe fired three arrows into a badly wounded spellgaunt and killed it. Still in flight, the elf ranger then flew to take cover in the alcove to the southeast. Lingerhol fired 5 arrows into the spider fifteen feet to his east, wounding the creature moderately. Bussell continued with his disintegrating. He cast the spell on the least wounded spellgaunt he could see. The spell vaporized much of the chiton of the spider, wounding it very seriously.

One spellgaunt attempted to leap out of the fire elemental’s reach. It planned to aid its three comrades to surround Stirge but, it misjudged the height and distance needed and fell short, colliding roughly with the spider to Stirge’s northeast. The other spider retreated from the fire elemental. The remaining three, around Stirge, raked and bit viciously but the half-orc easily dodged all attacks.

Betty stepped from cover in the northern doorway, planted her feet in the muck and took a wounding shot at one of the spellgaunts surrounding Stirge. Stirge took two mighty swings with the Axe of Compassion, killing the spider to his northeast instantly. His second swing carried through the divided body of the first spider only to glance of the hard chiton of the spider to his direct south. Stirge drew his axe back twice again but only struck with one light blow.

A screenshot of the spellgaunt battle just before it's conclusion.Although several of the spiders fell, Frickalind had lost patience with the slow progress of the battle so far. She summoned three more fire elementals to hasten things along. The elementals set the remaining four spiders ablaze!

Maceo briefly though to sing of Stirge’s magnificence in combat but, frankly, a berserk half-orc scared him. Tactically it made more sense to help Hinkwe. So, as Maceo’s dirge made the spellgaunts steadily more weak and clumsy the gnome changed the music again adding lyrics to speak of Hinkwe’s prowess in archery.

Empowered by Maceo’s music, Hinkwe fired four arrows in the spider to Stirges south, killing the spider immediately. With his remaining arrows he killed a second spellgaunt. Not wanting to be outdone, Lingerhol stepped from concealment by the northern doorway and decided to direct all his arrows into the least injured spider, wounding it seriously.

Bussell seeing only two spiders still standing, elected to use scorching ray spell. This incinerated both of them. Fearing an orcish fit of pique, Bussell immediately blurted out an apology to Stirge.

The battle was over.

The Queen’s Agents carefully searched the crypt:

  • In various jars, chests and urns 3600 houses were found
  • 7 pieces of alexandrite were found, appraised by Maceo to be worth 20 houses each
  • A scroll, first spotted by Bussell’s arcane sight, of Meld into Stone was found

Otherwise the Troubleshooters were wounded, down on spells, with some of their important magical equipment destroyed. Hinkwe thought for a moment of recruiting some other agents to find and end Gulthias. It was the general feeling that a retreat to Waylon was best.

But Frickalind thought a parting shot was in order. The Chime of Opening was used on the double door to the east of the crypt. Frickalind commanded her five elementals to go as far as they could, wreck as much as they could and kill all who crossed their path. This they did.

The Troubleshooters then teleported back to the Queen’s City.An illustration of the African city of Longo, which I'm using here for Waylon.

Going Postal: Spellgaunts Attack!

[Taking place on April 24th, 2016, this was my first session where we used the WebRTC function of Roll20. As with my prior use of audio recording software with Skype, I had found a new tool to record the audio, video and screen events of Roll20. There was roughly two hours of technical difficulties, late player arrivals and the characters were in a combat situation so we got off to a slow start and didn’t accomplish very much in terms of plot. Ralph, Mike, JB and Demo were in attendance.]

A screenshot from Roll20 show a small portion of Matakan and the party of heroes.To recap and give a context, our heroes, the elite squad of troubleshooters for the RPA, had fought and defeated the undead cryohydra, Jujex Leather, and her band of well-trained ogre thugs in the village of Matakan. In the process of doing so our heroes discovered Jujex was an ally to a vampire lord named Gulthias. Maceo, the squad’s scholar and historian, had heard a little about Gulthias. According to the history he knew, Gulthias was supposed as destroyed long centuries earlier.

A section of the map of Udra, showing where Nightfang is located.This was a troubling for several reasons. First, the history was wrong; Gulthias was not destroyed! Next, the vampire lord now made his base in the long abandoned and haunted tower, called Nightfang, which was in the pass between the Heights of Idiocy and Mount Consquent, on the northern end of the Critic’s Teeth. This was not far from Matakan and also it was very close to Frickalind Hierophant’s shrine, the Seat of Crondussa, at the summit of the Heights of Idiocy. Finally, further clues revealed from one of Gulthias’ captives, showed that Gulthias had created a cult dedicated to rebirth of the Star Dragon, Ashardalon.

Months beforehand, the Troubleshooters had put an end to the multiversal plot of Lord Ihirijika. During that mission, they had found in Ihirijika’s papers, references to Ashardalon. The Troubleshooters, Hinkwe especially, knew Gulthias’ association with Ashardalon couldn’t be coincidence. So, after the restoration of Matakan, the Troubleshooters returned to Waylon to inform and convince Lady Hilda of a new threat to the Queen’s Peace. Unsurprisingly, Lady Hilda gave them the order pacify the area at their full discretion.

This lead to several days of assaults and repeated hacking and slashing through Nightfang, fighting many undead, constructs and monsters hitherto unseen in Udra. After many hard fights, the tower was cleared. The party then made a brief sally into the catacombs only to encounter strange, magic destroying, spiders the size of horses! Some of their equipment was destroyed by these spiders and the party decided to retreat and regroup.

An illustration of a spellgaunt.The squad then took twenty days rest in the Queen’s City, Waylon, to regroup, re-equip, heal wounds and train for the push into the vast crypts below the tower. They also learned the spiders they had encountered were called spellgaunts, which were very rare, but highly intelligent and communal creatures that fed on strong sources of magic. The spiders were going to be a problem!

After consuming a Hero’s Feast upon their return, the squad made a careful search of the tower to check they had not missed any loot or useful clues before making a further push into the catacombs. The search found a few minor bits of treasure but no clues as to Gulthias’ location. The Troubleshooters knew this was far from over.

Bussell, Hinkwe and Maceo cast several augmentative and defensive spells on the squad, including Haste, an Inspiring Song of Courage, Extended Nightvision, Bear’s Endurance, Flight and others. Several magic devices were activated including rings of invisibility. Returning to where they had last encountered the spiders, the party decided to keep pushing in that direction. Frikalind used divination to search for sources of evil and undeath and found nothing within the range of her magic.

A screenshot of the Troubleshooters just prior to the death of Betty.They were confronted with a door in the south of the chamber they were currently in. Maceo, Bussell, Frikalind and Lingerhol drew back about 30 feet to take defensive cover in the alcoves lining the western and eastern walls of the crypt. Betty knelt in front of the door with Hinkwe and Stirge on her flanks. As the one in the squad best trained for such things, Betty Davis carefully examined the door finding it to be trapped and barred on the other side. Both she and Hinkwe heard nothing on the other side.

Hinkwe rolled his eyes with contempt and jostled Betty lightly aside to give the door a small kick.

There was a burst of killing frost, which Stirge and Hinkwe easily evaded. Betty was not so lucky and was badly, but not mortally, wounded. She recovered sufficiently to tap her Chime of Opening and the bar on the other side of the door fell away to reveal a new, much smaller chamber.

Betty searched this with Hinkwe’s help and in the debris and funeral urns found a several sacks with house coins totally in the hundreds, some gems appraised at 20 houses each and two magic potions. These were stashed away in the party kitty. There remained another, very similar door in the south end of the chamber, which Betty found to be barred as well.

The Chime of Opening was struck again only to trigger another trap,  which Betty missed. This was a blast of fire but, she and Hinkwe were both on their guard and ducked behind cover, unwounded. The open door revealed a new chamber very similar to the one Hinkwe and Betty were currently in. Hinkwe stood at the door as Betty went in to search.

As she was concluding her search of the room, and before anyone could act, Betty was stuck all at once from four invisible opponents, suddenly revealed to be spellgaunts. The spider bites destroyed her magic boots and cloak while claws raked her viciously to abrade and bludgeon her. The blood loss was critical. She’d not survive another attack like that!

After the sneak attack, the Troubleshooters sprang into action but the spiders were just a shade quicker. The spider to Betty’s southeast, struck her three times with claws and bite, killing her.

The spellguant to Betty’s southwest, now deprived of Betty as a target, decided to shoot webbing at Hinkwe, hoping to ensnare him, but the elf easily dodged the blast. The ones blocking the door attempted to bite Hinkwe’s magic bow and failed. They batted at him with their legs wounding him lightly.

Maceo saw his sidekick, Betty, fall bloody and still to the floor. He took a few steps to clear his line of sight, briefly considered casting Cacophonic Burst, realized the Burst would hurt Hinkwe too and elected, instead, to cast Haste on the party.

Lingerhol, about 20 feet north of Hinkwe and the room, took a few steps to his left to get a line of sight through the door and, taking advantage of his haste, shot a large salvo of arrows into one of the spiders wounding the creature lightly.

An illustration of a rather short sorceror standing smugly before his summoned black tentaclesBussell summoned Black Tentacles to ensnare the beasts in the room. Unfortunately the area of the spell ensnared Hinkwe too regardless, the spellguants were trapped and slowly being constricted by the tentacles great strength. Completing the spell, Bussell Hedgerow, always under the power of a flight spell, floated to one side for cover, saying, “My work here is done.”

Hinkwe, flying and having narrowly managed to break free of the tentacles, floated back about five feet to turn and fire an arrow into the door of the northern room. Hinkwe offered no explanation for this odd behavior but muttered under his breath about Bussell’s indiscriminate and poorly timed use of magic.

Both Frickalind and Stirge simply waited for the tentacles to do their work. The half-orc former pirate pulled out and lit his pipe. They both seemed content to let the Black Tentacles do their slow,  brutal work. The spiders struggled, mostly in vain, to break free of the tentacles which only tightened their grip further.

A spellgaunt did break free successfully but quickly realized that its disjoining bite had no effect on the tentacles.  Instead it tried to scramble its way out of the spell area but, its movement was constrained so it could only struggle out slowly.

A screenshot of the Roll20 game space showing the results of Bussell and Hinkwe's actionsLingerhol fired another salvo of arrows onto the same creature he attacked mere seconds ago, this time the wounds were more severe.  Now that Hinkwe was free of the tentacles and was away from the door, Maceo cast a Cacophonic Burst into the room with spiders. This wound most of them.

Hinkwe decided that waiting to see the spellgaunts crushed to death was too slow. He decided to use his arrows to speed them along to their spidery gods and spidery afterlife. Zap! Zap! This brought down two and wounded a third.

Bussell, followed up with Polymorph Object, turning one of the two remaining spellgaunts into a horsefly, made of stone, the size of a horse. Only one of the spiders remained. Seeing this, Stirge and Frickalind continued to abide.

Or at least they did until the final spider broke free of the black tentacles and strode straight toward Stirge! Who then, with two mighty swings of the Axe of Compassion, cut the spellgaunt into four roughly equal chunks!

Bussell dismissed his black tentacles and the party rushed into retrieve the corpse of Betty.

Clutched, viselike, in her hands were the bits of treasure she’d found in the room before the spiders struck her down–three sacks filled with thousands of gold, a few gems and three potion flasks. The Troubleshooters elected to teleport to Waylon, to the Temple of Montintera, Goddess of Lightning and Mirrors. It was there they hoped to restore Betty by True Resurrection.

What Bernie Sanders Means to Me

This started off on Sunday the 17th of March, after my attendance, as a Bernie Sanders delegate, of the 43rd Legislative District Caucus of the Democratic Party.  This meeting was to accomplish many things, the chief of which was the election of delegates who’d then move onto county, congressional district and state party caucuses and conventions and then finally be sent on to the National Party Convention in Philadelphia in late July.

“Caucusing is Weird”

Yeah, tell me about it. A scan of my Democratic Party delegate credential

At the meeting there were the usual complaints by some new to Washington State’s Democratic Party caucus system. Voting by caucus is slow, complicated and–perhaps–inefficient in comparison to the standard primary voting schemes of most states.

Going on my own memory, from the mid 1980s until at least 2004, several have tried in presidential election years to move Washington State to a Party affiliated primary system. Continuing to go on my memory of the last 30 years of news, this was most angrily rejected and fought against by the state’s Democratic Party.

The state Republicans the idea to change to a primary system. This mostly dates back to 1988, when Christian conservative voters used the Washington caucusing system to stage a takeover of the state GOP. This scared and embarrassed the GOP leadership so they’ve been holding to a primary system ever since.

These different reactions have a lot to do with the history and ideology of both parties in the state. To really explain all would divert us but, to summarize without much evidence, Democrats like the system because:

  • It serves as a grass roots fund raising method
  • It serves as outreach and recruitment for unaffiliated voters
  • It’s a networking system that sends roots into communities
  • It gets Party members involved with party workings including changing ideological planks.
  • It forces voters to choose and at least temporarily join a party.

Republicans don’t like it, at least as an election method, because

  • There is the risk that rank and file members can use the system go against party leadership
  • It’s more party neutral (Which I’d say is code for “independents” who frequently vote GOP anyway.)
  • It’s slow, expensive and overloaded with tasks. Primaries are more optimized to doing one thing: electing people.

But to sum up what happened last Sunday, our caucus meeting was well organized despite the huge turnout. Our chair, James Apa, worked hard to explain things, resolve confusion, make party procedure transparent to the questions of new members and still keep things rolling along in an efficient matter.

Are there problems with caucus systems? Yes. Are there benefits to caucus systems? Yes.

Argh! Where to Start?

A political cartoon by Thomas Nast lampooning the money, power and corruption of Boss Tweed.But while we’re on the subject of election system reform, I’d say there are many things that are more weird, broken and just plain corrupt about how elections work in the US. The Electoral College has got to go. We need to move to a Single Transferable Vote system. Gerrymandering still runs rampant. Corporate lobbyists warp state legislatures, the door continues to revolve and money needs to be kicked out of politics.

With each and every one of those problems, the entrenched powers that be will fight reform until the bitter end. As always, reform will be hobbled with intentionally broken compromises and the irrelevancies of the public’s short attention span. Representative politics have been contending with corruption and reform since Solon’s day. But I think we’ve reached another turning point in United States history, this is how I interpret the meaning of Bernie Sanders’ rise to national prominence.

It’s About Sending a Message

A photo of Phil Ochs, a folkie who remained true to the vision until his death.
The first time I heard “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” back in the 1980s, Phil Ochs stuck as a very insightful critics of the American Left.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton is one of the most able, trained and experienced presidential candidates my party has put forward in 30 years. She’s tough under fire. Perhaps she’s not especially charismatic but she’s smart and visionary. National health care reform was pretty much her brainchild. And as someone who has long considered himself a feminist, it’s about damn time we had a woman as president! After New York, it’s clear now she’ll be the Party’s nominee for president. And she’ll have my vote and full support with no hard feelings. She’s earned it.

So why did I support Sanders? And why do I ask all Sanders delegates to remain steadfast all the way to the national convention in Philadelphia? It’s about ideology.

In his long career in Congress, Sanders has been an independent. My theory is he did this simply because the Democratic Party in the United States was not left-wing enough for him. This was especially true during the last 40 years as the apathy, fear and cynicism of the 1970s signaled a shift to the right-wing, peaking with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

But 40 years is a long time. I feel the coalition built between neoliberal economics and religious conservatives back in the 1970s has disintegrated and has become irrelevant in the face of the global financial meltdown and the open xenophobia of Donald Trump.

Things have come full circle again. Deregulation has broken both the banking system and the stock markets. And international trade, while beneficial in many ways, also exploits the lack of international law, the slave wages and lack of environmental regulations in poor countries and saps jobs away from postindustrial ones  The Soviet Union is gone and terrorism just isn’t scary enough to cow  people into voting for you. Meanwhile our infrastructure continues to crumble and income disparity is at an all time high. The world is a very different place than it was 1976.

A photo of Bernie Sanders being confronted by a sparrow in Portland, Oregon.It’s into this world that Bernie Sanders set foot when he declared as a Democratic presidential candidate. As an independent, this was a very clever move on his part as the election system on the local, state and federal level is strongly stacked against independent and third party candidates.

He’s made an astoundingly good run so far in defying the talking heads. He’s inspired a lot of people who wouldn’t have gotten involved in this election if he wasn’t there to represent their views, so long scoffed at and ignored in this country.

All the Sanders supporters–especially all the new ones we may gather after New York–have a mission: Even if Sanders won’t win, they need to push the Democratic Party back to the left. A sufficient portion of the public is ready for it. That’s been my reason for support Sanders from the start. I wasn’t too sure on his success but I did want to sent a message to the moderates in the Party establishment–the country is ready for a return to the left. You know,  the real left.

Udra: My RPG Campaign History in Several Parts

See parts one, two, three. and four.

2011 to The Present: The Virtual Living Room

A screenshot of the map of the country of Udra in Roll20. There was a roughly two year period between Summer of 2009 and early 2011 where I wasn’t running my game. This was because two key players once again moved away. But this time around there were solutions.

So this time around, it was easy for me to turn the entire planet into my living room.

But I was hesitant at first. I claim to be built for the future but, in the end, I’m just as reactionary as the worst of them! The real driver behind yanking me into the 21st century was my old, dear friend. It was him that “got the band back together” and made it all happen (Really!). But there were significant changes in the player lineup (with folks joining in from NYC, Bahrain, Thailand as well as members of the old Seattle Crew.) and that required that I create a new thread in Udra.

I called it “Going Postal” (And in later months, I plan to back-post the many, many recorded sessions from it so, keep checking the prior hyperlink!) and it was the first time Udra started getting well documented and the world building began to get formalized. “Going Postal” built off a plot excuse I used in “Circus of the Mighty:” The Royal Postal Authority. In the campaign calendar, it started in 6252 RCE.

Significant Udran Events

  • Ellen I, Udra’s superhumanly intelligent prodigy queen, celebrates 15 years in power. By this point, at 25, despite the tumultuous changes she’s made to the political, economic and social fabric of Udra, her rule seems stable and unassailable.
  • Baroness Hilda of Jars, former Field Captain in the RPA (Agent #122), is granted all the land of the Isle of Jars, given the title of Baroness, is promoted to command the RPA, and is invited to the Queen’s Small Council.
  • Sir Stirge Barnaclesucker, is knighted, the first of orcish blood to be so, and assigned to a raising squad of military intelligence agents, described later.
  • Sir Dwalor, nearly five years lost and presumed undead in Nyambe, is found, destroyed and his ashes are returned to rest at the Temple of Molna on the Isle of Jars.
  • A painting of Grendel's Mother attempting to stab Beowulf, by J.R. Skelton Chebo the Drowned, captured by the Circus of the Mighty more than 5 years previously, is found to be a lich, at large in Nyambe, and plotting to attack Udra with haggish and vampire allies and a huge fleet of orc pirates.
  • The Aquatic Cold War between Udra’s Sea Elves and Sea Hags is finally broken as Chebo’s plot is defeated and the lich is finally and truly destroyed. The Sea Elves a notoriously secretive people open the first diplomatic mission in Waylon.
  • The master weaponsmith of the Dwarven City of Glesnok is “soul-napped.” The RPA’s best squad, uncovering this crime, volunteers to  investigate. A plot of multiversal scale is uncovered hatched by  Half-Dragon Ihirijika in his Iron Fortress on the Plane of War, Acheron.

Notable Udran Characters

Hinkwe Dolsalkhdie
As acting squad leader, he is a friend to all animals and a deacon to the God of Falcons. With supernal senses, his skill in archery is peerless! Born to the elf nation of Talithanth, Hinkwe joined the RPA’s Troubleshooters initially because it seemed like a fun gig. But his frivolity hides a devastatingly shrewd tactical sense.
Maceo Eh Xous
The brains behind the muscle, a scholar, bard, landlord and innkeeper. Born as one of the extremely rare Udran gnomes. He has been in the Queen’s Troubleshooters from the beginning, his arcane music has saved the squad many times. Modest in spite his profession, Maceo has almost singlehandedly changed the music styles of Udra.
Frickalind
Unshakable, unflappable, serene but always highly observant and never foolhardy, Frickalind is unnervingly calm in all situations. As hierophant and priestess of Crondussa, she has been with the Troubleshooters since the beginning. As the conduit of all manner of defensive and divinatory magic, as the claw of the Goddess of Eagles, Frickalind has saved the squad many times.
Bussell Hedgerow
Stubbornly whimsical, defiantly mercurial, Bussell has defied the dour stereotype of Udra’s halflings. A fire and mind sorcerer, gifted with unnatural sight and a richly appointed mansion in a pocket universe, Bussell has long considered himself the Troubleshooter’s psychological war officer or, if needs be, the architect of firebombing campaigns.
Lingerhol Keekway
A darkwood stalker well trained in the culture, languages and tactics of orcs, Lingerhol is never one to draw his weapon first. The half-elf is without doubt one of the best equestrians in Udra. It is rumored his steed, Tantalus, is in fact an infernal familiar with godlike powers. A man of extensive letters, he has yet to publish any of them.
Sir Stirge Barnaclesucker
Illustration of Stirge Barnaclesucker. Drawn by Milo BarasordaAs RPA badge number #138, Stirge was the main close combat muscle in the days of the Circus. A long reformed half-orc pirate, herpetologist and businessman, he was rewarded for his long service to the Queen with knighthood and a seat on the governing council of the Isle of Jars. He reports only and personally to Baroness Hilda, his liege. He was been called back to service to join the Troubleshooters on their mission to find and destroy Chebo the Drowned. He has remained with them since.
Golath the Red
Cousin to Hendar the Heroic, fan of the exploits of Agent 101, Sir Arthur Trumblebone, Golath was RPA academy trained and scored the highest marks in the Civil Service Examination since its institution 13 years ago. He was immediately assigned to the Troubleshooting Squad but was soon replaced by Sir Stirge.
Hit Phar
A seven foot tall, giant walking slab of muscle, following in the footsteps of Sir Stirge, Hit was another half-orc to take a chance to better himself in the RPA. With the Troubleshooters from the earliest days, he was mostly known for his truly omnivorous eating habits, his huge appetite and his tendency to be cougar-bait. For reasons yet to be explained he was suddenly transferred to the RPA’sA screenshot of the map where all the action happened back offices.

 

Historical Revisionism

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

A still from the Virgin Films movie, 1984, showing the cubicles of the Ministry of TruthSo what I discovered, in painstakingly cleaning and correcting nearly five hundred fifty pages of link spam and weird line breaks, is a lot of link rot, a lot of spelling errors and typos. I also found a lot of broken site-internal links. These happened because, when 16 years of content goes through three content management systems and three servers, URLs break. I also found a lot broken images because WordPress stores and handles images differently than MovableType and Greymatter.

So to fix this, I’m starting two or three new tasks:

  1. Fix all the internal hyperlinks so they work again.
  2. Restore lost images
  3. Or, and this is where the revisionism begins, add images to really old entries that never had such.

I have some pretty long old pages, and although they never many images to start with, I’m going to add them, just to break them up a bit and add a bit more content.  This is ahistoric and violates the context in which some of the pages were first crafted but:

  1. Even before Greymatter I was able to add images to pages created on my site.
  2. I’ll keep the images historically accurate if I talk about something that existed in 2003 but no longer exists in current times, I use images of that thing in 2003.

I figure, the linkrot should be historically accurate enough and if I don’t change what I wrote, we should be cool. Anyway, the spam has been cleaned out and we’re back in business again. “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

Recovering from a Spambot Attack

So, sometime towards the middle or end of March, my site got hit with a spamdexing attack. Nearly all my pages got littered with links to illegal boner pill sites. A closeup of a mock spam deletion key in a keyboard.

I suspect, and I really can’t prove this, the attack started after I removed a dodgy site theme template I had installed in WordPress. This theme was inserting spam links at the bottom of each of my pages and hiding them from plain sight with CSS rules. I only noticed this when I turned CSS off one day in February. I replaced the theme template with another more legitimate one and bumped the links out. Problem solved. So I thought.

What also happened–I think–is the theme template installed two new users with administrative privileges on my site. I assume the spambot then just swept by my site, looking for one or the other account and then used it to inject shit in my data.

At least I hope that’s the way it happened. I deleted those two extra users. But the worse case could be that the bad guys used those accounts to recover the MySQL admin password that sits behind WordPress’ magic. If this latter case is true. I’ll have to export all my content to XML, drop the database entirely, start with a fresh database and a new user and password and then reinstall my content again. What a drag.

I hope not, but just to be on the safe side, I’ll rename the MySQL admin account and change the password for it, then tweak things in WordPress so they can still talk to one another.

As it is, I have blasted most of the crap away, but much remains. I’m systematically going through each page to do this and I’m not finished yet. This is good though because I had a bunch really old posts that have gone through two other blog tools, Greymatter and Movable Type, and got very strangely formatted in the transferal to WordPress. Me going through to edit out spam, will clean all that up too.

Bragging Rights?

A bad quality photo of a Blackberry Pearl 8230 smartphone.I do have a smartphone, a clamshell, Blackberry 8230. It was my first mobile phone and I bought it somewhere towards the end of Obama’s first term, around 2010. I got it because it was cheap and I was afraid I’d break it or lose it. Mostly I’ve used it as a 3G tether for my laptops while on the bus to and from work. I was never an early adopter. Before and during that time, it seemed like the entire world slid into the touch screen.

One of the objections I have to smartphones, even Android using hardware, is that they aren’t modular like desktop computers. Yes, I’ve read about Project Ara but, since 2011, it seems like almost no one has adopted that form factor yet and, there are various legal and business entanglements that are slowing progress. Because of this, in the last 4 years, I’ve been reading about DIY projects with open, commodity hardware to build smart phones: Tyler's do-it-yourself smartphone.

Raspberry Pis get more and more feature packed with each iteration and have now diversified into different models for different applications. Given that, Spadgenske’s DIY smartphone looks to me like the street is going to find its own solutions to this tinkerer’s urge before Project Ara will.

I’m sorely tempted to try my own hand at this, just for bragging rights.

The Path to Tetra Vaal

So around 1997, over my company’s broadband connection, I downloaded some video files–which is what we did in those days before YouTube–from the Honda robotics site about a bipedal robot called P1. I can’t seem to find the video I watched back then but here is another promotional video that captures the flavor. The robot is tethered but it’s hoofing around and opening doors as neat as you please:

At the time this was astonishing because bipedal motion was a very hard problem in terms of AI, sensing, navigation and motor control. It had never been done before.

But the Japanese government, by way of universities, MITI and industry R&D departments threw many millions of dollars and thousands computer scientists and engineers at the problem until they cracked it with brilliant creativity in 1993. By 1997, P1 was climbing stairs and just walking around at a pretty good clip. P1 and its descendants eventually eventually walked, tether free, into history as Honda’s ASIMO robot line.

Since that time simply everyone has got into the bipedal robot business and the US military has taken a very active interest, which takes us to the DARPA Robotics Challenge of 2015 and its oft cited failures:

What’s not often shown are the longer videos of all the robot recoveries and successes in the challenge though:

Bipedal robots are getting better and better at the tasks we set them disturbingly fast. Which brings us to Boston Dynamics (Now owned by Google or Alphabet or whatever it’s calling itself now.) promotional video for its bipedal Atlas robot which was generating a lot of buzz in the news yesterday:

What’s going on here in the video is both very impressive to me:

  • Walking on snowy ice covered forest floor without falling down is not at all easy even for humans!
  • The latest Atlas only masses at 81 kilos. P1 massed at 175 kilograms and was always tethered for both power (The batteries weren’t small enough.) and stability.
  • I don’t know what the battery life on this version of the robot is but I’m guessing that it’s about 20 to 30 minutes on the rough terrain.
  • Being fully electromechanical Atlas is far, far more quiet than Boston Dynamic’s famous Big Dog.

I wonder how the next DARPA challenge is going to go! And I’m reminded of the Blomkamp short that made him famous from way back in 2003. I suppose we could stress over all the military implications here but, honestly, I’m more worried about the implications of bipedal robots on employment: