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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Al Petterson's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, December 29th, 2013
12:58 am
Can't resist tinkering
I've been reading the beginning of Razor Coast, which was in my virtual stocking on Wednesday. There's a number of "degraded heroes" in it - a party of former adventurers where it all went wrong for them, and they're moping around in variously bad situations in the city, for the PCs to optionally inspire, rescue, and join forces with.

It made me think about how to model "degraded hero" in 3.5/Pathfinder. And there's an obvious answer: long-term negative levels, caused by failure and emotional trauma. What I don't have (up front) is a mechanism more complicated than Restoration for removing these long-term negative levels. Something like atonement/geas-quest sorts of thing, or fulfilling a ghost's purpose to banish it, but strictly on a "mundane" level; it could be done with sufficiently inspiring Diplomacy or even Intimidation, or bardic performance, or just removing whatever the block is that keeps them from being active again. (I'm also watching Nikita and thinking about blackmail and so on.)

And then that led to something else: I thought of how rogues get powers like "do 2 points of Dex or Str damage with each successful hit", and I considered the idea of using Intimidate, Diplomacy, Bluff, or other social skills to do temporary Intelligence (enragement), Wisdom (distraction), or Charisma (self-doubt) damage, the way Ray of Enfeeblement does temporary Strength damage. It'd generally be hard to do in combat (ye olde -4 in combat), but it sure might be potent to use against spellcasters and others who do magical effects. Probably not major effects, but 2 or 4 points of ability score damage, if you make a sufficiently hard skill roll (target's Will save + 20 or something as the difficulty?)

Anyway. Thoughts.
Monday, October 7th, 2013
8:15 pm
Kingmaker episode 2
They all have names! Royce and Serafina the twin half-elves, and Darby the gnome druid.

Not nearly as much happened this time - or at least what happened was less consequential. The PCs started exploring - they found a patch of moon radishes and killed the kobolds who'd been harvesting them (selling them for a cool 250gp back at the trading post); they killed a pony-sized spider that'd been preying on creatures in the area, and liberated a treasure map from its lair; they found a rickety bridge and just missed losing a horse to it; they happened upon a huge tree infested with the mites that had stolen items from the bandits (who'd stolen the ring from Svetlana) and resolved to come back and beat upon the mites; they found the clue to the treasure map and discovered a pile of loot that the bandits had taken from an itinerant wizard, including a scroll of spells and a wand -- and all in all they spent a couple of weeks of game time exploring the lands surrounding Oleg's post, surveying it for suitability to start a kingdom.

One thing I forgot to mention to J/W/S - so I'm mentioning it here - is that they've completed two quests (eliminate at least 6 bandits and deliver moon radishes to Svetlana), and each quest nets them additional XP, which means they're actually second level now, and they should level before our next adventure (which is probably a month away because it's marching band season.)

Their next mission will be to smite the mites, explore the rest of the hills north of the Shrike, delve into the Narlmarches, follow reports of kobolds, find and kill a tatzlwyrm, and track down the rumored great boar called Tuskgutter. After which they have to go after the Stag Lord himself and rid the northern Greenbelt of brigands once and for all.
Sunday, September 22nd, 2013
1:50 am
New campaign!
Major spoilers for the Kingmaker adventure path for Pathfinder follow. But what a great example of first-level cleverness this was. Read more...Collapse )
Saturday, September 7th, 2013
9:05 pm
Trying to use LJArchive
In case livejournal ever goes spaaa, you know. But I'm hitting this error, and I have no idea what setting they're talking about - all the dialogs are very different since ljarchive was written..

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013
9:24 am
Haven't posted in a long while.

Musing about world settings - the sorts of places where I have an idea, and probably no time ever to develop it. (Thinking about this partly because my Sedona setting for modern-day occult/superhero roleplaying keeps sputtering and not getting legs.) The Infinite Archipelago is one such original setting - I have the idea, and have run some short adventures there, but I haven't come up with "this is a campaign, here, let me run it for you".

Another world setting that I thought of, said "this would be so cool", except nothing jumped out at me for how to run adventures in it, was the hybrid modern/Silver-Age-Of-SF solar system: from Mercury to the asteroids, the solar system is what 1952 thought it was (think Lucky Starr); from Jupiter on out, it's what Voyager/Galileo/Cassini have found it to be, with the answers to all current speculation being "yes".

Seems like a really fun place to visit. Except that I can't figure out how to structure a story, or a roleplaying campaign, in it, because a lot of the fun (in my head) comes from exploring it, which you have to limit and leaven with lots of other things that distract from the exploration and tie you to one place for a long time, because in real life exploration gets dull fast.

If I lived in close proximity to my gamer-geek friends I'd try to spend lots of evenings hashing these out and figuring out how to make them interesting. But since I don't, I won't ever. Which is a little sad.
Sunday, May 19th, 2013
4:36 pm
Champions design assistance, anyone?
My Champions players have come up with some excellent concepts, but they're not skilled character designers. And we're hitting smack against two different barriers I don't know how to scale.

We've run one extended adventure, light on combat and keeping things a little vague, but the players definitely want the characters nailed down and I don't blame them. It's a mystic-themed adventure in the standard 5th Ed Champions universe, and in Champions mystic characters tend to get built with VPPs that are heavily special-effect-limited (as all VPPs need to be). All three have "more to it" than just "I do magic", which is great.

But it's really damn hard to run a game where characters have VPPs but the players don't feel comfortable with the character design process, because a VPP always means you're redesigning your character on the fly.

They're all willing to be menu-based - the character is at any point restricted to "only choose from these powers" because they have to go research and experiment and invent in order to build new powers. But this still means a ton of work up front to give them decent menus.

Meanwhile, even if I could nail down these concepts, there's a separate problem.

The character concepts don't generally wind up being "standard PC" power levels - they're ordinary humans with magic. And the concepts aren't really designed for combat -- two of the three, anyway. And I like them having to dodge around fights because fights are dangerous. Except that it makes the players feel useless when there's an actual combat -- so maybe what's happening is that we are falling into the same trap we always fall into when I try to do mystic-themed Champions.

One is a cybermage - carries a smartphone, writes magic spells on it, typically with subtle electronics-based effects. She can control computers and electronic devices, and can supernaturally gather tons of information from the internet. The second is based off Harry Dresden's apprentice Molly: invisibility, mental illusion/control powers, and "hermetic" magic. The third is a Native American "druid" - she shapeshifts into animal forms and controls/summons nature spirits.

Designing adventures that all three can be useful in is a huge challenge. Designing fights that they can all be useful in is an even bigger nightmare. If there's no computers involved, the first is almost useless, but if the opponents rely on electronics, they tend simply to fall apart. If the opponents don't have both mental defense and invisibility detection, the second is nearly invulnerable. The third can one-punch anything that can't one-punch the other two.

I have gotten myself into what feels like a deep concept hole, and I don't know really what to do. All three characters are wildly unbalanced, in that they're all way too effective within their own regime and too useless outside of it. This makes them extremely hard to challenge properly (that is, oppose with someone roughly *equal* in power), as the challenges for each are very different, and tend either to uninvolve the other two or else be trivially solveable by one of the other two.

I have some stories I want to tell. I can fold them into the Champions setting easily - there are tendrils in their backstories into several of the groups in that universe, and I have a ton of ideas I want to pursue.

But - I dunno - this lack of balance is really difficult and I don't know how to solve it. But maybe a skilled third party, who can throw together Champions characters really well and provide us with an actual team that works, based on these concepts, could help me with it.

I'm almost tempted to chuck Champions and declare that they're a Virtual Adept, a Hermetic, and a Dreamspeaker, and run World of Darkness instead - that's how desperate I am. They're *great* concepts. Good backstories, interesting powers. But it's virtually impossible, near as I can tell, to put them together using Champions mechanics.

But first things first. They're expecting me to write up their characters - which I've done, but they're complaining that the designs aren't fleshed out because they don't know what they can and can't do with their VPPs. I feel like if we had really good character write-ups with clear definitions of capabilities, it would make things a bit clearer. (Yet I might still have the adventure design problem.)

I suspect I am just plain doomed.
Sunday, May 5th, 2013
9:14 pm
Still here.
Mostly not journaling - ever since Facebook lifted the 420-character limit I've found it less necessary to put things here too. But I'm still around.
Monday, November 26th, 2012
6:08 pm
Fascinating evidence of Facebook's liberal bias:

If you repeat positions a conservative said to you and attribute these beliefs to that person, Facebook will consider it a violation of their terms of service, claiming that you are engaging in verbal harassment. If a person says to you, in public conversation on Facebook, that they believe people are overeducated, and that they don't care whether cuts to funding hurt people, then if you assert in another conversation that they believe these things, you will be found in violation of the terms of service.
Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
2:41 pm
The Emerald Brigade!
This was the final performance of the Granite Bay Emerald Brigade's field show, at the WBA 4A Finals, in Fresno, on November 18th.

We took 3rd (out of 18 excellent bands competing in our division - some coming from as far away as Arizona).

My daughter is fourth trombone from the right most of the time.

55 of the 130 members of the band are freshmen. That fact kept blowing me away every time I watched them play.
Saturday, October 6th, 2012
3:55 pm
Saturn's Coolest #1: Titan
Before I tell you about Titan I should set the stage a little.

Voyager 2, as you probably know, went past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. All four - because they were lined up, and it was possible to fly past all of them - and this happens only once every couple hundred years; won't happen again in any of our lifetimes. We had this one shot. And we sent the two Voyager probes, both capable of making this grand tour.

But only one did. Why? Because we altered the trajectory of the other one - Voyager 1 - to fly close to Titan. That meant it had to give up Uranus and Neptune - both gas giant systems, all their moons and rings and mysteries, neither of which we'll visit again. Voyager 1 gave up all that, leaving them to its sister alone, just so its path through the Saturn system would take it close to Titan.

And twenty years later, when we launched Cassini towards the Saturn system, Cassini - unlike Galileo, which went to orbit Jupiter - carried a lander with it: the Huygens probe. The first thing Cassini did when it reached Saturn was drop the probe... so the probe could land on Titan, take pictures as it descended, and survive for a couple of minutes on the surface. We didn't bother to send a lander to any of Jupiter's moons. Titan's only the fifth thing we've landed anything on at all, after the Moon, Mars, Venus, and one near-Earth asteroid.

What makes Titan so special? Read more...Collapse )
Thursday, October 4th, 2012
9:39 am
Saturn's Coolest #2: Enceladus
Like almost all of Saturn's moons, Enceladus keeps one face toward Saturn. (I just talked yesterday about the interesting exception.) That's for good reason - the closer you are to an object, the stronger the "slope" of its gravitational pull (and Enceladus orbits very close to Saturn: second closest world after Mimas). Because the planet's gravity is getting stronger quickly as you move towards it, the front side of a moon orbiting Saturn is pulled toward Saturn harder than the back of the moon. If it started out rotating, this tidal force slowed its rotation down - and given hundreds of millions or billions of years, the rotation stops, and the moon winds up facing the same side toward its planet.

But that happens to all the moons. (Our moon keeps one face toward the Earth for the same reason.) But because Enceladus is so close to Saturn, the tides have a much more interesting effect.

What is the effect? Well, how tides work, the front of the moon, being permanently closer to Saturn, "wants" to be in a lower orbit than the back of the moon - this creates a constant pressure to pull the moon apart. And when you have constant pressure like that on a world, the world creaks and groans. The parts shift against each other, and flex back and forth. In other words, it's seismically active. Read more...Collapse )
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
10:29 am
Saturn's Coolest #3: Hyperion
Weird enough for you yet?

Hyperion is almost as big as Mimas - which has enough gravity to force itself into a sphere - yet is not remotely spherical - instead, it looks like this.

But that's not the weirdest thing about it. Read more...Collapse )
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012
6:41 pm
Saturn's Coolest #4: Methone
Methone is a tiny, tiny little rock. It's only three miles long. Its orbit is between Mimas and Enceladus. Cassini found it about six years ago.

Why is Methone on this list? Simple. It's a freaking space pod left by aliens.

Read more...Collapse )
Monday, October 1st, 2012
10:22 am
Saturn's Coolest #5: Epimetheus and Janus
The most common reaction I've heard when these two moons are explained to people (*) is "you have got to be shitting me."

(* People, as opposed to physicists.)

Like Prometheus and Pandora, these two aren't worlds (they aren't spheres); they're just rocks, and in fact are not far from that pair. Epimetheus and Janus orbit inside of Mimas, very close to the rings, but outside of the F ring that Prometheus and Pandora make.

Rocks aren't, by and large, all that interesting. But these two are not just interesting but dumbfounding, not because of what they are but because of what they do.

I'll let you figure out the problem. They're each about a hunded miles in diameter (on average; they're irregular rocks). Their orbits are perfectly circular, and they both orbit exactly in the plane of the rings. And the radii of their orbits - the paths traveled by the two moons' centers - differ by only thirty miles.

Think about that for a minute. I'll wait. Read more...Collapse )
Sunday, September 30th, 2012
11:03 pm
Saturn's Coolest #6: Iapetus
I originally considered making a list of the top six moons of Saturn, not the top ten, because the ones up till now - as interesting as they (hopefully) have been, are just not in the same class as what's coming. Iapetus is, to me, where things really start getting good.

When Cassini (the astronomer) discovered Iapetus, he had a problem: he could only see it on one side of Saturn and not the other; years later, he saw it on the other side, but he needed a bigger telescope: it was only one tenth as bright.

Why? Well, obviously it was bright on one side and dim on the other... but we had to wait till Cassini (the orbiter) got to Saturn before we had any decent pictures that explained any further. (Arthur C. Clarke made this differential an important plot point of his novel 2001. Clarke may have been closer to the truth than he knew... but I'll get to that.) Read more...Collapse )
Saturday, September 29th, 2012
5:37 pm
Saturn Interlude: Themes and Mysteries
At this point, when I go over this list, I notice a couple themes about Saturn and her moons: they've taken a lot of major-impact damage, there are a bunch of complicated gravitational relationships, and there sure are a lot of little rocks around. Oh, right, and there are these dazzlingly bright rings, which none of the other gas giants have.

Complicated gravitational couplings happen when many moderate-to-small things - small world and big rocks - are orbiting in fairly close quarters, and have been doing it for billions of years. The rest fall into the "what we still have to work out" part of Saturn. We don't know for sure why there are near-worldshattering impact craters on two of the inner moons; we don't know why there are so many little rocks around; we don't know the original source of the rings. I'm not done talking about any of those yet, because the speculations out there in the scientific community intrigue me, and I deliberately arranged this list to talk about the most significant pieces of those mysteries later on.

But there are lots of rocks. Read more...Collapse )
Friday, September 28th, 2012
4:32 pm
Saturn's Coolest #7: Tethys
Third world out from the gas giant, Tethys is an ice ball, cratered but slightly smoothed from old ice melts. Like Mimas, it has an enormous crater - Odysseus - that, while it's more smoothed out and eroded than Herschel, is as big - proportionally - as Herschel is. Since Tethys is twice the size of Mimas, that makes Odysseus twice the size of Herschel.

To explain what I find so interesting about this impact on Tethys, go look at a map of Mars for a minute. In the southern hemisphere of Mars, there's a ginormous ancient impact basin - Hellas. Same relative size - Hellas is about as big compared to Mars as Odysseus is compared to Tethys. Now, if you turn Mars over and look opposite Hellas, you see the largest dry-land chasm in the Solar System: Valles Marineris (three thousand miles long). When the Hellas impact happened on Mars, part of its crust split, like the skin of an orange, opposite the impact.

The same thing happened on Tethys. Ithaca Chasma is the second-largest dry-land chasm in the Solar System: it's about half the length of Valles Marineris. Except it's on a moon with a diameter of less than seven hundred miles... which means the fourteen hundred mile long chasm goes three quarters of the way around the world. It's sixty miles wide and three miles deep, and pretty much splits the entire moon in half. When something hit Tethys and made Odysseus Crater, it hit hard.

Tethys also has resonances with several other moons in the Saturn system. For every orbit of Tethys, Mimas orbits exactly twice. (This isn't so special; Enceladus and Dione have the same relationship, and around Jupiter, Ganymede-Europa-Io are all bound together the same way.) But Tethys also has two Trojan companions - that is, rocks a couple miles in diameter that share the same orbit as Tethys, one sixty degrees ahead, one sixty degrees behind. This is all in addition to the relationships Mimas has with Pandora and with Saturn's rings.

The impact basin and chasm, and the complicated gravitational effects combine to put Tethys on my list.

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
4:25 pm
Saturn's Coolest #8: Mimas
Mimas is the innermost and smallest world of the Saturn system: about two hundred miles in diameter, it orbits just outside all the easily-visible rings.

One of the most iconic pictures from Voyager 1, as it flew through the Saturn system in 1980, was this picture of Mimas. Its resemblance to the Death Star, just after Empire Strikes Back was released, was a cool and almost spooky coincidence. It looks like it does because of the huge crater (Herschel) taking up a third of one side of the moon. That crater is interesting; Mimas isn't the only one of Saturn's moons to show clear evidence that large amounts of debris was flying around the system at some point in the very distant past. The crater is so big that some models say it should have shattered Mimas when it hit, so why it didn't is a good question.

It's not the only thing interesting about Mimas, though. Read more...Collapse )
Wednesday, September 26th, 2012
4:22 pm
Saturn's Coolest #9: Rhea
Until recently I wouldn't have put Rhea, or the similar moon Dione, into a top-ten list of Saturn's interesting moons. It's a moon. It has craters and mountains that make for a wispy appearance at a distance. It's otherwise pretty well-behaved and looks kind of generic as moons go. But the Cassini orbiter found out something weird about Rhea that we can't, at this point, explain. The whole Saturn system has a certain amount of charged particles around it, basically resulting from the planet's magnetic field. The charged particles follow a known and expected pattern around each moon.

Except Rhea. When Cassini flew through the ring plane near Rhea - that is, through Rhea's orbit, above its equator - there was a drop-off in magnetic particles. Huh, the scientists said. This means there's probably a dim ring of uncharged particles around Rhea. That's pretty cool; let's take a picture the next time the orbiter goes by. So the orbiter went by again, they snapped pictures - no ring. Nothing. Just a gap in the charged particle density around Rhea.

Why? We don't know. Some kind of magnetic field around Rhea that repels the charged particles? Probably. Why and how did it get there? We don't know. But this mystery is enough to make Rhea - Saturn's second-largest moon - interesting, and earns her a spot in my top ten.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
9:56 am
Saturn's Coolest #10: Prometheus/Pandora
I'm cheating here. These two aren't worlds, they're rocks. And there's two of them in this slot, but that's because it's the two of them working together that makes them interesting.

These two potato-shaped rocks (each about eighty or so miles across the long way) orbit just outside the main part of Saturn's rings; their orbits are only a few thousand miles apart. What makes them interesting is that between the two of them there's a very thin ring - the F ring - and it's the presence of these two moons that "traps" material in this ring; their gravity herds tiny particles of ring-material into an orbit between the two; they clear out particles in their own orbits and maintain a thin ring, looking almost threadlike, between them.

But the F ring isn't just a thread. Take a look - it has ripples. (When we first took pictures of it with Voyager, it looked braided.) Read more...Collapse )
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