Friday, October 31, 2008

Marvel Comics #1 Reviewed

This is it – the primordial Marvel Comics, in 1939 when the company was known as Timely. Because Marvel Comics #1 is such a mixed bag, I'm going to grant each feature a separate grade instead of one for the whole issue.

Marvel Comics #1
“The Human Torch.” Grade: C.
Very busy page layouts, with up to 12 panels on 2 different pages! Carl Burgos' artwork is crude and sketchy. The “science” behind a flaming android is just ridiculous. He's pretty much unstoppable, unless you have water or a chemical lab handy. The most character depth we get is the since-quoted line of angst, “Why must everything I touch turn to flame?” and the rebellious vow, “I'll be free, and no one will ever use me for selfish gain – or crime!” Sardo the Racketeer is a pretty sad nemesis with an overly convoluted scheme for sneaking the Torch into warehouses and making him inadvertently burn them down. I can't see that having worked more than once. It is interesting how the Torch gets out of punishment in court for having murdered people, since he's an android and technically his creator's property.
“The Angel.” Grade: C+.
This one has 12-panel pages 4 times! Paul Gustavson's artwork is clearer than Burgos' and has heavier inking to give it a noirish look, but it is hard to follow the action from the art alone. The story is a simple Angel-kills-mobsters-one-by-one story until a mystery woman enters the story, leaving cryptic notes for the Angel and rescuing him during the obligatory captured-by-the-bad-guys scene. When she turns out to be working for the main bad guy (the mystery of who he is was spoiled back on page 2), it completes the collection of cliches – though it's not so bad a collection of cliches.
“The Sub-Mariner.” Grade: A-.
Compared to the last two pages, Bill Everett's art looks expansive, with only 1 page of 7 panels and most averaging 6 panels. The inking is gorgeous in the on-land scenes, though with excessive lines in the underwater scenes. There is a slowly mounting sense of menace to the early pages that gets their payoff when Namor really does turn out to be a menace. Then he surprisingly turns out to be a Mommy's boy, raised for revenge by his mother for how she was impregnated by an American (and giving us Namor's origin story; we learn that Namor was born in either 1920 or possibly 1921). That he is naïve enough to not know he's killing surface-dwellers when he takes them prisoner without their air supply makes him strangely sympathetic. Also sympathetic is Lady Dorma, back then a waif-like half-breed who seems to idolize Namor, but her motives are subtle and never spelled out for us. Further, at this point Namor and Dorma do not know they are bulletproof (nor do we, though we find that out about Namor in the next installment) and that turns the sense of menace back on them by story's end (which is not really an ending, but more of a cutting-off point where Everett simply ran out of pages).
Points are docked for senseless violence (Namor never faces repercussions for the deaths he causes) and, well, it's just too weird for me that some of the merfolk have faces like catfish while others don't.
“The Masked Raider.” Grade: B-.
The layouts here never get more than 10 panels long, averaging 8 panels per page. The artwork (signed simply as “Anders”) is dismally inadequate – when everyone is dressed like a cowboy, you need to be able to draw faces so they all look different. Most everyone here is a western stereotype. Our hero, Jim Gardley, reinvents himself by getting back to nature as he hones his skills. His strength comes from exiting society and living free, the cowboy way. The corrupt sheriff, idiot that he is for falling for the pretend-to-be-sick-in-the-jail-cell routine, at least neatly repents before story's end, which is probably more important for the ending than seeing the Bruder Gang shot up or lassoed.
“Jungle Terror.” Grade: D+
Only 1 12-panel page here, but there's still a lot crammed into this “complete adventure story” about diamond thieves stealing from Amazon savages (you can tell the good thieves from the bad thieves because the good thieves brought a kid along). There's planes crashing, people being shot, and tons of coincidences to move the plot faster, but it's all happening to characters so cardboard they make the Masked Raider look like Citizen Kane.
“Burning Rubber.” Grade: C.
A mini-soap opera about a race car driver/inventor whose girlfriend has to find a buyer for the gas feeder he's using before the prototype his race car is using explodes (or something). She saves his life, then he mistakenly (it's irony) scolds her for being selfish, and somehow the buyer never questions why he'd be interested in a gas feeder that makes race cars explode.
“Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great.” Grade: C.
The boyhood adventures of Ka-Zar have nothing to do with Zabu the sabre-toothed tiger and the Savage Land in Antarctica and everything to do with ripping off Tarzan as directly as possible. Ben Thompson's artwork is rough every time it does not appear to be traced from photo references. The pages average 9 panels per page, but the last page is a real rush job where at least 2 pages of story are squeezed into 11 panels. That said, I like how every animal has a name that Ka-Zar (actually David Rand; the name Ka-Zar is somehow given to him by a lion named Zar, even though it can't talk) somehow knows. I also like the explanation for why Ka-Zar and his father never leave the jungle – the father takes a blow to the head and goes crazy, thinking that he IS home in the jungle. The story is also pretty dark, since we have to read about how both of Ka-Zar's parents die in depressing circumstances.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Century Man 1901

[From 2005, the beginning of an aborted effort to write the biography of the 20th century's Century Man as a novel in chronological order. This version of the character is no longer compatible with the current "canon" for the Century Men.]

January 1901

In the last remaining seconds of the year 1900 and the 19th century, a bugler from the First Illinois Infantry played "Taps" at the corner of Madison and Dearborn Streets. Horns blared and revolvers were fired recklessly into the air as the clock bells tolled the changing of the century. After the last stroke tolled from the bells, the bugler played "Reveille." Those who stayed up to celebrate the New Year despite the bitter cold either went back to their parties or went back to bed and the comfort of warm blankets. The latter is what I did.

My life both before and after the start of 1901 was so different that I will not bother you with many details of the former. I was a happily married man, a father, and -- due to the hard work and discipline of my father -- enjoyed a life of privilege. Indeed, though I was president of several companies and organizations, I had never worked hard in my life until I began to take on more company duties of my father’s these past two years since his health began to decline. It wasn’t the physical demands of the job, though, that made it so bad. It was visiting the stockyards. There was the horrible sound. There was the smell. The stench of death was as bad or worse. Oh, flocks of tourists always came and watched out of morbid curiosity, but to endure the sound and the smell day after day took stamina and willpower.

My father always had, besides riches, stamina and willpower to spare. I had always meant to tell him how I admired those characteristics. I believe I had made a long list of such things in my head the morning I received the phone call from his doctor. His myocarditis was worsening, they told me, complicated by pneumonia. I had taken the call while visiting the stockyards office. I recall how difficult it was to hear the words over the squealing of the pigs in the yards.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Century Man Story Synopses

[The Century Man is a very old character concept of mine, dating back to at least 1995 when he was a 19th century character called the Miracle Man (which, at that time, I didn't know was a copyrighted name). The Century Man has gone through several names and been transplanted to different times and settings through the years -- none of which contradict each other because the Century Man is actually a lineage of superheroes. Below is a series of story synopses I had done back in Aug. 2006 when I thought writing about the 20th century's Century Man circa 1940 was the best route to introducing this character concept. Right now, though, I'm working on a comic book about the 21st century's Century Man, that I think will appeal to a broader audience. These stories, though, might wind up being a back-up feature someday...]

#1 “Farewell, Dear Sir”
Jan. 20, 1940. As Britain halts U.S. ships at Gibraltor, the U.S. waits for an explanation from the British embassy. The chief ambassador, however, has gone missing and the U.K. thinks it could have been deliberate retaliation. The Century Man follows the ambassador’s trail to a black nightclub that is a front for fifth columnists.

#2 “All Aboard for Brazil ”
Feb. 14, 1940. A scientist researching medicine to fight paralysis is stranded in Brazil , afraid to travel by boat because of German U-boats. The Century Man flies down to Brazil only to find the scientist missing, but stumbles on a secret harbor where German U-boats are being allowed to refuel. The Century Man trades his neutrality in exchange for the scientist, who was being held by the Brazilian authorities who wish to cultivate the substance he found to use as a drug.

#3 “Black Monday”
March 4, 1940. While rescuing people in New England from a killer ice storm, the Century Man encounters a grizzly doctor who is collecting frozen bodies.

#4 “The Roaring Beserker”
April 10, 1940. The Century Man arrives in Greenland on a mission to check for German occupation. Sure enough, the Germans have established a U-boat dock here already, but this time Tim has orders to wreck it. Unfortunately, the Norse god of beserkers, Modi, is in Greenland at the time and itching for a fight with the Century Man.

#5 “Ill-Made Politician”
May 28, 1940. Chomping at the bit to return to the European theater and fight the Nazis, the Century Man appeals to his commanding officers and to the politicians of Washington to declare war, or at least send him over. At the same time, he spends quality time with his wife and their young children, Tyler and Elizabeth. If he goes to war, this could be good-bye.

#6 “The Century Man Goes East”
June 1, 1940. The Century Man is given permission to fly to France and aid with the evacuation of British forces from France at Dunkirk. Tim guides ships across the Channel and defends them from German bombers, gaining the trust of the British officers who fear his supernatural powers.

#7 “The Century Man Meets His Match”
July 10, 1940. With the 400,000th British soldier cleared out of France, the Century Man remains behind in Dunkirk to evacuate citizens, even though this is outside the purview of his orders. Oddly, Tim finds a group of citizens unwilling to move – a coven of werewolves who are in fact waiting for the German forces to arrive in order to infect them with lycanthropy.

#8 “Harder Than You Think”
August 18, 1940. The Germans launch another massive air strike against southern England. The Century Man does his best to intervene, but finds himself also under attack by werewolves who have infiltrated the British Army.

#9 “Blackout”
September 14, 1940. London is blacked out, German bombs fall on the city, and the Century Man is being hunted by civil authorities because of high-placed werewolves – leading to a battle between Tim and the first werewolf – now a member of Parliament.

#10 “Realm of Politics”
October 27, 1940. The Century Man returns to the U.S., testifies before Congress that the U.S. should go to war, and meets with the vigilante, Goodfellow, to debate if costumed vigilantes should go to war too.

Friday, October 24, 2008


[Another project I started in the last year was a romance novel about gamers. While I still think the project has merit, I hit the snag of how to describe game sessions to non-gamers in a way that would make interesting reading. Anyway, this is how that project started.]

When Julie asked where the gamers were, the ladies at the circulation desk had given her a peculiar look, like she had just asked for spoiled vegetables at the grocery store. With a judgmental look and a disdainful point of the finger, Julie was directed to the Sassafras Lake Public Library meeting rooms. Cautiously, as if approaching a wild animal, Julie made her way into the wing of the library reserved for functions and gatherings. She was lucky it was not a wild animal she was approaching, as she only had a small purse on her for protection which, due to an unpleasant encounter at a park last year, she knew to be barely sufficient in size to repel an irate goose attack. The foyer before the meeting rooms was empty and warehouse-like, with the doors to the meeting rooms all closed. Julie moved to each door and listened to them, hoping to detect occupants in this manner. At the second door, she did not have to listen hard at all, for a peal of laughter erupted from inside she could have heard from several feet away, followed by raised voices.

“Goin’ down!”

“Nice kill!”

“There are at least two lizard men left, you know.”

Julie put her hand on the door, took a deep breath, and knocked. The response was that the noise quieted down inside. Since no one answered her, she opened the door.

The room inside was dominated by two folding tables set up in a T-shape. There were four chairs around one table and only one chair at the other table, facing the others. The young man sitting alone and facing the others had the most books and papers stacked around him, with a colorful cardboard folding screen standing as a barrier between the other four people and his possessions. He was, Julie guessed, about 20 years old. A quick glance at the other four revealed that they were all the same age or slightly younger than the man behind the screen.

“I’m sorry,” the man behind the screen said to her politely. He looked to be tall, broad-shouldered, clean-cut, with sandy blonde hair swept to the side of his forehead. His short-sleeved polo shirt showed off that he worked out. He was the type of guy Julie used to give her phone number out to when she was dating. “Were we being too loud?”

Julie had to think about that for a moment before she realized what wrong conclusion he had reached. “Oh, no, I don’t work here. I came to see you.”

“Me?” the man behind the screen asked. The other four guys snickered.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shah of Parsa

[This is an original story I started in 2007. After 9 pages, I got stumped and gave up the project, at least for the foreseeable future. Here is how it starts.]

In the palace of the shah, in his white marble pillared audience chamber, Xshayarsha, Shah of Parsa and Emperor of the Achaemenids, took the parchment scroll held before him by his kneeling chief scribe. The scroll was heavy, wound thick around its gold dowel, and glittered with the jewel-like painted cuniform letters in sharply written Elamite. Once the scribe verified it was complete, Xshayarsha dismissed him. Then he took the unusual step of having his court cleared immediately. The palace guards were surprised, but obeyed at once. His courtiers were largely obedient too. They shuffled noiselessly out of the chamber, a sedate parade of men in women in high-waisted robes.

All left save Hadassah. Hadassah, once favored concubine, now first wife of the shah, head of his harem, and ruler of his heart, was alone immune to her husband’s commands. She walked nonchalantly past the row of Xshayarsha’s personal eunuch guards, seemingly admiring how they all stood as erect as statues waiting for their lord’s commands.

“What troubles you, my lord?” Hadassah asked softly as she glided across the room to the shah’s dais. Xshayarsha was on his feet now, walking from his throne and still holding the scroll in his hands. She intercepted him, fell into step right behind him, and followed him as he moved to the balcony overlooking his courtyard, so deep in thought it was as if he were sleepwalking.

The courtyard below presented a beautiful collage of fountains, gardens, and statuary that stretched across the palace grounds to the base of his father’s palace opposite his. The fountains were studded with gemstones that sparkled in the sun. Walnut, maple, and mulberry trees dominated the flora of the gardens, providing ample shade for the ancient leaders of Parsa, now immortalized in bronze and stone. In the midst of all this, a lamassu guardian – sphinx-like – lifted its head and quietly observed the arrival of the shah. Its wings remained folded against its bovine flanks.

“Your lord?” Xshayarsha echoed with bitter sarcasm. “Then why do I feel more like a slave than a shah? I could be out conquering foreign lands or dealing with the nomads that harass our borders. I could be leading armies.”

“You do great things right here, my lord,” Hadassah said earnestly, but Xshayarsha turned on her sharply as if she had insulted him. But that moment of anger in his face was already gone. It had melted away and been replaced with a tired, sedate countenance. His next words sounded self-reproachful instead of bitter.

“I while away my best years here at the palace because I cannot resist you. You were a concubine when I added you to my harem, and now here you are -- my first wife. You rule my harem and, through it, you rule me.”

“You give me too much credit that I do not deserve,” she responded quietly, but he did not seem to hear her and continued.

“When I think on how great a man my father was…” he said, staring off the balcony into space and gripping the fat scroll tightly in his hands.

“Every woman of yours knows what it is like to live in the shadow of a great man,” Hadassah said. “I understand. That is why you grow melancholy whenever a new part of your father’s history is written.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Original Character Concepts: Golden Age Heroes

[The following are some ideas I've had for original 1940s superheroes. At least for now I don't have a project to go with them, though maybe someday they'll wind up in Hideouts & Hoodlums.]

Supplejack, Clarence Kerr, is a 30-year old Australian immigrant to the U.S., having arrived in 1941. He left his native country, as he acquired his powers by eating the berries from a magic supplejack tree venerated by aborigines who are still looking to punish him. Naturalization delays kept him from being able to enroll in the war for his adopted country until late 1942. His white jacket is embroidered with a leafy, berried vine motif, the supplejack plant and match his white gloves. He is buff and strong, able to lift/press 800 lbs., but can also stretch his body to three times its normal length or width. His pliable body is bullet-resistant. He married last year.

The Baton, Bryan Weaver, is a 34-year old Sgt. Major in the Marine Corps. He was a track star in college when he met Fletch. The two of them bemoaned the state of the world and decided to train themselves until they could do something about it, but inspired by swashbuckler movies, they would do it with archaic weapons instead of guns. In Bryan’s case, he hated guns because his father had committed suicide with a gun after the Great Stock Market Crash. That was 1935. Bryan chose to become a weapon master with the quarterstaff or, more specifically for him, an aluminum baton. The team of Fletch and Baton began battling crime in 1939. In 1942, Bryan reluctantly learned to fire a gun when he joined the Marines. He is engaged to be married.

Roc, Dixie Green, is a 26-year old woman who can transform into a condor with a 24-ft. wingspan. She was a schoolteacher with a romantic love for Arabian myths who was given a book by a mysterious stranger. When she reads it, she falls asleep and wakens as Roc. During the war, she gave up teaching to work in a factory and fell in love with the plant owner. But then she fell in love with Hawthorn too. She left the plant owner (after their engagement) to marry Hawthorn 3 years ago. Now she is pregnant.

Fletch, Roland Quigly, 34, was into archery in college before he and his best friend Bryan even made their pact. Like Bryan, Roland hated guns, but Roland hated guns because his father had, during high school, threatened Roland with a gun if Roland did not bring up his grades. It was Roland who suggested costumed identities for their vigilantism, as he did not want his father to know he was doing good things with his life. That changed when Roland openly joined the Marines and was reconciled with his proud father. While Bryan quickly gravitated to becoming an officer, Roland became an M.P. Roland has a serious girlfriend.

Hawthorn, Carl Hambledon, 35, was a bookish clerk with no future and a love for Nathaniel Hawthorn’s writing when he fell asleep for 3 days under an enchanted tree and woke with the ability to cause brambles to spring up around him.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


[This is the beginning of my first submission and rejection to F&SF magazine, earlier this year. I plan to rework it before submitting it to Realms of Fantasy, taking out a lot of this world-building.]

It must be remembered that, as late as the third rein of King Nusser, there were still many beautiful forests in Gondland. The Forest of Dolambor was wild and old and, for all its bountiful splendor, best viewed from a distance -- as many a hunter or trapper from the Earldom of Ahbrek could tell. The smaller Forest of Strood was quiet and serene and virtually undefiled, at that time, by the woodsmen of Wood Dale. There were druids in Strood in those days and good tax-paying druids too, so Valdert, the Baron of Walstren, wisely respected their reverence for the trees and avoided much grief that would later beset his successors. But for sheer diversity, there was no topping the Forest of Dindappen. Vertically, Dindappen peaked at Cherval's Hill, an almost mountainous hill virtually bursting with natural springs that fed half the waterways in the forest. The Cherval River sprang from here, quickly formed rapids, and then changed its mind and decided to meander more lazily to where the Dindappen Forest bottomed out, in the Deep Fens at the south end of the forest. Though few risked dealing with the indigenous scumwalker beetles in the fens, it would have been worth it to hear the chime willows when the wind hit them just right. Chime willows were only the most exotic of a score of specimens of coniferous and deciduous trees that could be found in the diverse Dindappen. Its wildflowers were the sweetest smelling, thanks to the indigenous honey iris that dominated huge swaths of the undergrowth, yet rankweed flourished in the vicinity of the Deep Fens.

West to east, a road cut through the Dindappen and linked the free towns of Mistdale and Whitewood. It was an old road, fashioned long ago by the Crycians before the Sergians even came to this land, and made as they fashioned roads, built on a high earthen escarpment. Yet even the Crycians could not or would not build their road straight through the forest and the Old Road, as it was now called, snaked back and forth, though not nearly as wildly as the Cherval. The forest had grown even higher and all along its route, the forest threatened to swallow the old road.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Adapting Keep on the Borderlands to Blackmoor

[From my 2nd ed. AD&D Blackmoor campaign, currently on hold. The version of Blackmoor I was using is a combination of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor and Gary Gygax's Blackmoor. Likewise, the Keep on the Borderlands I was running was a combination of the original 1980 module, Return to Keep on the Borderlands, and Hackmaster's Little Keep on the Borderlands. The following is largely a reworking of material from Little Keep.]

The eastern-most, and largest of Gloomen County’s three North Keeps is Kendor’s Keep. Kendor’s Keep is located in the forested Westwood Hills, roughly equidistant from Lake Gloomey and Vestfold, both 50 miles away. It is five miles west of the Sherpty Channel and two miles northeast of the Village of Sittingham. The remote Hamlet of Herntable is nine miles to the northwest of the Keep. Both Kendor’s Keep and the Village of Sittingham are located in the Westwood’s Throat, a strip of land free of forestation that runs southwest from near the edge of Sherpty Channel and opens to the fields surrounding the Village of Chattingham (almost halfway to the Town of Lake Gloomy).

For 200 years, the Archduchy of Blackmoor and the Barony of Coot have been at odds. Coot has invaded twice, both times striking primarily at the Earldom of Vestfold. The County of Gloomen has been spared the brunt of both assaults, but its counts have always been conscious of the mere 10-mile wide channel separating Gloomen and Coot. Mainly out of fear of Coot, the north part of the county is largely deserted, save for a few hamlets and the three North Keeps.

The easternmost keep was built after the first Coot Invasion and was built to be the largest, for fear that the Sherpty Channel and the old road leading from it to Lake Gloomey (now gone and replaced by paths; only the Westwood’s Throat remains to show where the road once was) could be used as an invasion route by the Cootons. Kendor was the first castellan who oversaw (and, it is said, even helped plan) the final stages of construction of the keep 100 years ago. The stone for the keep was quarried from Sittingham, Chattingham (its stone quarry was played out 50 years ago, though), and even Prestone. Kendor’s Keep has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the Village of Sittingham, receiving most of its foodstuffs from there (and most of its finished goods from Lake Gloomy or Harblebury). Sittingham is also where most of the conscripted soldiers have to go to unwind when off-duty, so Sittingham has a whole section of the village set aside for their kinds of needs.

Kendor’s Keep sat uncontested for its first 25 years. At that point, the village of Sage’s Tower was fortified and a concerted effort was made to drive monsters from its peninsula. Swamp orcs fled to the southwest into the Westwood and -- although too weak in numbers to attack Kendor’s Keep – they essentially laid siege to it for three years. In that third year they were assisted by goblins and gnoles dispatched from the Egg of Coot and nearly overwhelmed the keep’s walls, but were wiped out in their fruitless assaults. This occurred simultaneously with the First Coot Invasion in modern times and was seen as a testing of Vestfold’s neighbors, if not an outright effort to outflank Vestfold. The men-at-arms at Kendor’s Keep were told to remain vigilant, but instead celebrated and two generations of their successors grew increasingly complacent.

That complacency was broken 38 years later – 35 years ago – with the Second Coot Invasion. This time, while the Coots again focused on the Glendower-Blackmoor area of Vestfold, a sizable force of 3,000 goblins, gnoles, and orcs sailed down the Sherpty – just as the counts had always feared – and assaulted Kendor’s Keep. The monstrous forces overwhelmed the walls and slugged it out with the defenders in the streets of the Middle Bailey. Half of the men, women, and children in the keep died that day, but the keep held. Luckily, allies had rallied around Blackmoor in anticipation of this invasion. Rovers of the Barrens rode to the keep’s rescue in numbers said to be 1,500. The keep’s invaders were routed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

EPA Report

Today [Nov. 19, 2004], Karen and I attended a workshop in Chicago at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Library. The subject was the EPA Web site or, more broadly, finding EPA information online. Our speaker was Penny Boyle, the librarian at the EPA , who is technically a contracted employee for the EPA; but she was well-versed in navigating the site and had an impressive understanding of its contents that even held up to my questioning after the lecture. The lecture itself ran over its two-hour allotment, and she did begin speaking and clicking rather fast towards the end as she tried to cram everything in. I will summarize some of her most useful tips and observations below. I have also arranged the discussion more thematically, whereas she had followed more closely the organization of the Web site. Karen is adding material to this report.

Firstly, I was impressed by her candor -- we were warned against the EPA Web site's search feature. Though much improved over just a year ago, it was still producing less relevant hits than most search engines, such as Google, could produce. She also offered a helpful tip on Google searching -- that when searching for a URL in the search bar as opposed to the URL bar, it helps to leave off the "www" at the beginning.

There are quite a few methods to search for EPA publications on the site. The site catalogs far many more documents than are available in full-text format online. Under the Information Services page, on the Welcome to the EPA Publications Source page, there are three methods of accessing EPA documents. The National Publications Catalog has 7,000 paper and electronic documents cataloged. The National Environmental Publications Internet Site (NEPIS) has even more documents, 10,000, all available electronically. The documents are not in more familiar formats like .html or .pdf, but .tif. It reminds me of LC's American Memory Web site. Then there is Publications on the EPA Site, which groups publications by subject. A lot of these documents, unfortunately, are so technical that they would go right over our patrons' heads. Another way to find publications that she showed us was under For Kids, then under Teachers' Site, where one finds Order Education Materials from EPA. It's an annotated list with the option of ordering or downloading copies. It's also possible to find Region 5 (our region)-specific publications under Finding Answers (

There are multiple places on the site where one can search by subject. Some lists are as short as six or so of the most common subjects. Quick Finder, at the top of the EPA home page, has 29 subjects -- but this list can be exploded into an alphabetical list of about 900 subject terms. Librarians at the EPA library assigned these subject terms and coded the metadata.

The EPA site can help with tracking environmental legislative history under the Laws, Regulations, and Dockets page. There are several links off-site, like for Code of Federal Regulations at GPOAccess. EPA has its own database for the Federal Register. I asked our presenter how it compared to searching Federal Register on GPOAccess. She was familiar enough with both to suggest that EPA's version is easier to search by date, while GPO's version is easier to search by subject. Most impressive. EPA has a database of environmental laws, but our presenter didn't recommend it, as it is sometimes as dated as 1990. She recommended instead the U.S. Senate Commitee on Environment & Public Work's Web site (, which is much more current. EPA Dockets, or Edockets, are collections of documentation used in crafting regulations. The EPA dockets began being collected in 2002 and contain only national, not regional, information. A related source is the Non-Binding Guidance Documents collection, or Interpretive Documents Collection, are documents from the other end of the process, enforcing the regulations. Under Regulations and Proposed Rules, under Codified Regulations, are links to all 50 states, and their environmental regulations.

On a related note, the same page has a link to a beta version of Code of Federal Regulations, or "e-CFR." It is a joint project between the Office of the Federal Register and the Government Printing Office. While not official like the paper version, it will be more frequently updated (today, on the 19th, it as current up to the 17th). The URL is Is everyone else familiar with this already?

There are ways to search for data by location, mainly via the Where You Live page. There are eight locality-oriented databases on this page that can be used to quickly look up what watersheds are in your zip code (Surf Your Watershed), the air quality over your home (Airnow), or the location of the nearest toxic waste dump to where you live (National Superfunds Sites). Envirofacts lists local businesses, what chemicals they have, and whether or not the business is in compliance with EPA laws and regulations for those substances. Window to My Environment is an interactive mapping tool that is useful for pulling together disparate information (ranging from surface water to population). However, there is no guide that explains what every feature is supposed to look like, so the more features one adds to the map, the more muddled and confusing it looks.

The For Kids section has already been mentioned. The games there are unlikely to supplant those popular with our young patrons. Supposedly, these pages were designed for children ages four and up. I'd have to put it to the Tyler test to see if that's true.

The EPA Newsroom page has a news releases archive that, I think, we're unlikely to use. It only features national, not regional, news. There is an option for receiving news releases via e-mail that might be worth considering.

There are numerous ways to contact the EPA through the Web site. Under About EPA is an employee directory. The speaker cautioned us that because she, and a number of other EPA “employees” are not truly employed by the EPA, so their names do not appear in the directory. Also under the heading About EPA is a place for citizens to voice complaints. To find the complaint section, Under About EPA, then click on “10 regional offices,” and then a map of the U.S. appears; click on region 5, and the right side of the region 5 page has several choices, and toward the bottom you will find “Contact us Online” and under that heading is “citizen complaints.” There is also an Experts List with the name and phone number for subject specialists who can answer questions on a variety of technical issues. Another source is Information Products Bulletin, under Welcome to the EPA Publications Source. The bulletin is mainly about upcoming publications, but is also handy for names and contact information. Also, the online version is more timely than the paper version of this title. Almost every page on the site has "contact us" links at the top or bottom of the page, or both. Though I don't recall her mentioning it, there is a list of hotlines one can call for more information under Hotlines and Clearinghouses.

From here, things got hectic as time began running out on the presentation. The following were databases on the site she felt important enough to warrant mention. Index to EPA Test Methods is, true to its name, an index only. Some methods are online, but others are still available only in paper copy from the EPA libraries. The ECOTOX database deals with how chemicals and toxins affect plants and animals. IRIS, on the other hand, deals with the health effects of particular environmental hazards on humans. And my personal favorite, SoR -- Systems of Registries -- that includes the SRS-Substance Registry System, explains which law a certain substance is regulated under. The speaker also outlined a special section on the EPA website to aid librarians (we need all the help we can get!) in finding what we need. The address is The tan handout does an outstanding job of giving a brief description of each section, and what it contains.

Now armed with all of this awesome EPA information, all we need are patrons who care enough about our environment to ask!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Emergency Preparedness - Homeland Security & Avian Bird Flu Event

Last night [Aug. 24, 2006], I attended “Emergency Preparedness – Homeland Security & Avian Bird Flu Event” hosted by State Representative Terry Parke. I had low expectations for the even going into it, expecting a lot of back-patting between politicians and a photo op, but that was not the case at all. This was a genuinely informative seminar with a crack panel of knowledgeable speakers who had to answer to an audience that was enthusiastic about learning more.

Terry Parke opened the panel discussion by bringing up the Streamwood microburst event of 1990 (, scroll down to June 29, 1990). That immediately piqued my interest because the event had occurred long enough ago that I did not think of that in terms of “emergency preparedness,” but it highlighted that the need for emergency preparedness at the local level is not a recent trend.

Mayor Roth made some remarks that were uninteresting. She brought nothing to the panel and was just there to be seen.

Dr. Stephen Martin, Jr., Director of the Cook County Dept. of Public Health (, did not have specific information to share (leaving that for the people under him), but did want to set the tone for the evening. He stressed that this was not the government “b.s.”ing people, but that they were there to give us the facts “straight up”. His combination of polished grammar and street talk lingo could only have come from Cook County, but may not have made the best impression here in the suburbs.

Luckily, Dr. Catherine Counard, Assistant Medical Director for Communicable Disease Control, gave most of the details for Dr. Martin. Nature called and I missed some of her part of the presentation, but the emphasis on the second half of her presentation was on sustained recovery (As Dr. Martin would say afterward, in the case of a pandemic, “The government will get everything right in the first 15 minutes. That’s the easy part; the hard part is the months of recovery that it will take afterward.”). She talked about the difference between seasonal flu and avian flu. Cook County has dispenser sites ready to give shots for a medical emergency, one site for every 50,000 people in the county. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for avian flu. President Bush has funded a new vaccine initiative (, but she conceded that such research will take 8-10 years. No indication was given how the county’s dispenser sites would be useful in the meanwhile.

Robert (I did not catch his last name), Special Agent for the F.B.I. Joint Terrorism Task Force, was a charismatic speaker, but with little specific information (he conceded jokingly that too much of it is classified or sensitive) to give us. The joint task force is the fourth largest field division of the FBI, which now emphasizes prevention post-9/11. “Forensic microbiology” is an area in which the FBI can aid local government in an emergency, citing a little-publicized case where subversives tried to influence an election by infecting the local populace with salmonella – by spraying it from bottles on buffet diner food – so they would be too sick to vote. He also emphasized, and others would reaffirm this after, that Illinois is ahead of many other states in terms of emergency preparedness.

Lt. Mike Marchese, Emergency Coordinator for the Schaumburg Police Dept., was a surprise. Though a mild, unenthused speaker, he was quite knowledgeable and web-savvy enough to be a librarian! He referred us to, a new site Homeland Security has put together, and told us about a Homeland Security video called “The Seven Stages of Terrorism” – which you can watch from the Schaumburg Police web site (!

Commander Randy Hart, Terrorism Liaison for the Streamwood Police Department, read from his notes. He spouted a lot of terms and acronyms at us very quickly, but I jotted down what I could. Streamwood is a member of the Illinois Statewide Terrorism Task Force ( -- another place you can watch that “7 Stages” video!). It has coordinated with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and been compliant with NIMS’ uniform protocols since 2002 ( It is a member of the Major Crime Task Force (MCTF) that allows its member communities to share resources and emergency manpower. The Streamwood police have joined the fire department as members of the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS)( Also, we learned from him that Streamwood plans to have two squad cars equipped with live video feeds (ostensibly so HQ can make faster and better decisions, but can footage of Streamwood DUIs on the TV show “Cops” be far behind?).

Next was Dr. Anna Ruman, a vet who is also an Assistant Bureau Chief for the Ill. Dept. of Agriculture. She returned our focus to avian bird flu and stressed how extremely unlikely it is that avian bird flu will become the next pandemic, despite its media sensationalism. She explained that avian bird flu was nothing new – that the last U.S. outbreak had been in Texas as recently as 2004 ( That if a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu reached the U.S., it would most likely show up first in the poultry industry. The poultry industry has its own plan for avian flu outbreak and would alert the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture immediately if it happened. They would have no motive to cover it up and save a bunch of ten-cent chickens that they can just slaughter and replace (I hoped she was not being literal about the ten-cent chickens, as they cost me $2 or more at the grocery store). Further, the Ill. Dept. of Agriculture routinely tests samplings as large of 8,000 birds of the Illinois bird population for disease.

Linda Reimel of the Ill. Dept. of Public Health and Regional Coordinator for Emergency Medical Services started out speaking strongly, but lost her nerve somewhere in mid-speech and seemed to almost be in tears by the end of it. Emergency Medical Services (, she explained, was the medical equivalent of MCTF. All county health departments in the state were coordinated through it. Hospitals can share their equipment and medicine statewide. Ambulance services, hospitals, and fire departments in Illinois are both EMS- and NIMS-compliant. She repeated that Illinois is ahead of other states. Louisiana did not have EMS coordination before Hurricane Katrina.

The last speaker on the panel was JoAnn Foley from Sherman Hospital. She was a spirited speaker, stressing more than anything family preparedness. She gave us advice such as “update your plan,” “know your neighbors’ emergency needs,” “stay three feet away from someone who is sneezing,” and “wash your hands often.” “Do not wait until an emergency to volunteer – get training earlier!” Parke added that every family should have a second emergency location for if home is the source of the emergency. As to professional emergency preparedness, she explained how Illinois is divided into 11 regions each with a “pod,” or head disaster, hospital in charge of coordination (“pod” is actually not an acronym, but refers to “like peas in a pod”). Sherman Hospital is our region’s pod hospital. Volunteer help will be important during a pandemic because absenteeism during a pandemic could be as high as 40%. Hospitals may restrict visitors to two trained adults, or open alternate care facilities when the hospitals fill up. For more information, she referred us to CDC ( and the Ill. Dept. of Public Health (

Some things came up during the question and answer session afterward. Sanitation, water, and other local departments all coordinate now just like the police and fire departments. Citizen Corps ( was recommended for homeland security volunteer programs and we were told by people in the audience that Arlington Heights, Elgin, and Palatine all have corps councils (for a complete list, see

Most of the information the police departments receive from the FBI is either classified, sensitive, or not considered of interest to the general public. What little is left is fed down to the public only through the police department’s press book. This was my question, and the Streamwood police commander spoke to me privately afterwards that he thought it would be a good idea for the police to offer this information more quickly to the public through a listserv or RSS feed.

Someone said more needs to be done to educate the public about these issues and that pamphlets need to be delivered to every homeowner. Terry Parke tried to put it politely that everyone on the panel was underfunded to do something like that. I resisted the urge to stand up and mention how much of this information is available from your local library, but did speak to Parke afterward about how the library could have been contacted in advance about this event and we could have showed up with all manner of documents on the subject and maybe even arrange on-site checkout. Parke politely asked me if I knew he was responsible for me having the job I have now and left it at that. But I did get my picture taken with him.

Last tidbits gleaned from the Q&A were – quarantine will likely not be attempted on a large scale during a pandemic. Unincorporated areas are covered by county emergency services. Emergency preparedness drills are federally mandated, with both field and “table top” drills. “We need to change how we make vaccine in our country” was the mantra of several panel members and some work in that area is already done. The USDA has developed a test for bird flu that can be ran in three hours instead of the two weeks it used to take.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Thief Class Revision


There are those who do not wish to gain power through their own merit, but who wish to steal it from others. Some do it, perceiving theft to be the easier route. Wiser but more adventurous men may steal for sport, or the thrill of it. More importantly, not every man who steals is of the thief class. These thieves are of a special breed, with the potential to achieve true greatness by their wit and wiles. Few do so, and fewer still do so alone -- hence the likelihood of finding higher-level thieves in large cities, organized into thieves' guilds.

Dexterity is the prime requisite for thieves and they gain benefits for having high Dexterity scores (see Ability Scores).

All races have thieves and all thieves advance evenly regardless of race.

Because so many thief skills require stealth, or at least ease of movement, low-level thieves cannot wear the heavier armors. This burden lessons as the thief becomes more accomplished at higher levels.

Backstabbing is a special attack thieves can make when their targets are taken by surprise. Despite the term "stabbing," any melee weapon can be used. The thief gains a +4 bonus "to hit" and (at lower levels) does "double" damage (the die is doubled and then modifiers are added). It is possible that a thief may be positioned to backstab during the initial surprise phase of combat (see Combat). Otherwise, the thief must move silently into melee (or, if already seen, hide in shadows and then move silently). After the initial backstabbing attack, whether successful or not, the thief cannot try again without repositioning himself. Invertebrates cannot be backstabbed.

Climb Walls is a skill all people have, but one thieves hone through practice. It is used for determining the success of navigating a vertical wall or steep slope either up or down, but can also be used for climbing trees and ladders when speed is of the essence. There are more possible variables than can be enumerated here, but some guidelines for bonuses and penalties include the following:

-80 for smooth (granite, marble) and wet surfaces (1 ft. per 2 rounds)
-70 for smooth and damp surfaces (3 ft. per rd.)
-70 for cracked (statues, timber) and wet surfaces (3 ft. per rd.)
-45 for smooth and dry surfaces (6 ft. per rd.)
-45 for cracked and damp surfaces (6 ft. per rd.)
-45 for fairly rough (limestone) and wet surfaces (6 ft. per rd.)
-20 for cracked and dry surfaces (12 ft. per rd.)
-20 for fairly rough and damp surfaces (9 ft. per rd.)
-20 for rough (rocky cliffs, chimneys) and wet surfaces (9 ft. per rd.)
+20 for rough and dry surfaces (24 ft. per rd.)
+40 for using a grapple and line
+40 for using spikes and line

Rates of speed are given above in parantheses. For situations not covered, the base speed is 12 ft. per round. If a check fails, the thief will typically loose his grip halfway to his destination. The exact distance fallen -- and resulting falling damage -- are determined by the referee.

Find Concealed/Secret Doors is a skill that combines intuition, mechanical skills, and old-fashioned groping. The thief must be in contact with the surface he wishes to check and even the thinnest of gloves would mean a penalty of 10 to the roll. A thief will likely need no tools for detecting a concealed door, which may require no more than lifting a tapestry or rolling back a rug. A thief can check a 10 ft. wide section of wall for concealed doors in one round. Secret doors are more problematic, as the thief must first search to find the door and then search again to find its trigger mechanism or other means of opening (provided there even is one on this side of the door). It takes 1-6 rounds to search a 10 ft. wide section of wall for secret doors or their means of entry. A thief can check the same section of wall twice, but has no further chances of finding something in that spot. Magically obscured secret doors cannot be detected by a thief at these levels.

Find/Remove Traps is a skill that follows many of the same rules for finding secret doors. Again, a thief will likely need no tools for detecting a trap, but will need tools for disarming one -- and will proceed with only half his normal chance if empty-handed. It takes 1-10 rounds to find and an equally random amount of time to remove a trap. The thief must roll separately to determine the success of both. A trap must be found before it can be removed. Failure at removing a trap will activate the trap. If either attempt fails, the thief cannot make a second attempt until he has gained another level of experience (though in the case of removing traps, this is seldom applicable). Magic or magically hidden traps cannot be detected or removed by a thief at these levels.

Hear Noise is a skill all people have, but one thieves hone through practice. It is used for listening at doors, trying to hear snatches of conversation across a crowded room, or determining the direction of a sound. Conditions may impose penalties or bonuses, dependent on the referee. Wearing a helmet, for instance, imposes a penalty of 20. Any thief may attempt to hear noise once per round.

Hide in Shadows is a related skill to Move Silently, yet the two are not used in tandem. Hiding in shadows is used when the thief plans to remain motionless. Any movement involved requires a Move Silently check instead. The stated chance assumes the thief is wearing clothes fitting for the environment (black at night, green in the forest, etc.). Otherwise, the roll is made at a penalty of 5. The environment itself can modify chances as well, such as +10 for dark woods or -20 for a meadow on a sunny day. A thief has only one-quarter his normal chance of hiding in shadows if already directly observed. Even once a thief is hidden in shadows, he is still subject to detection as if invisible (see Detection). Any thief may attempt to hide in shadows once per round.

Move Silently is the skill of generally moving unnoticed -- sound is but one of the obstacles to this skill. It is used if a thief wishes to sneak past someone, sneak into melee (often with intent to backstab), or slip out of a melee undetected. Movement cannot be made faster than walking speed while moving silently (see Movement). The stated chance assumes the thief is dressed for the part -- no hard-soled shoes, no clanking items carried, etc. Inappropriate garb could cost the thief a penalty of 5-20, depending on the circumstances. Any thief may attempt to move silently once per round.

Open Locks is a skill a thief cannot attempt without a set of special tools. It takes 1-10 rounds before a roll can be made for the attempt. It the attempt fails, the thief cannot make another attempt until he has gained another level of experience.

Pick Pockets is a skill of sleight of hand, taking something without being seen. The stated chance presumes that the thief is using a tool such as rosin powder, a concealed knife, or the like to help pull off the trick. If the thief tries this trick empty-handed, his chance of success is reduced by 5. A failed roll means the attempt was unsuccessful, but failure by 21 or more means the intended victim (and possibly more people, given the circumstances) catches the thief red-handed. For every level of the intended victim over 3rd, a thief's chance of success is reduced by 5. All thieves may attempt this skill once per round and additional attempts can be made on a target even after one has failed.

Level One
Title: Mugger XP: 0-1,000
HD: 1d6 Fights As: 1st level

Special Abilities: Backstab for double damage.

Climb Walls: 75 in 100
Find Concealed/Secret Doors: 35 in 100/18 in 100
Find/Remove Traps: 20 in 100
Hear Noise: 11 in 100
Hide in Shadows: 20 in 100
Move Silently: 15 in 100
Open Locks: 25 in 100
Pick Pockets: 30 in 100

Limitations: Muggers cannot perform their special abilities while wearing armor heavier than light leather.

Obligations: Muggers must pay 50 gp in protection money to the regional thieves’ guild (most likely the Glein Rogues). They must live as if lower lower class, even if they are not. They must steal at least 10 gp worth of valuables by roughing people up before leveling.

Level Two
Title: Baiter XP: 1,001-2,000
HD: +1d6 Fights As: 1st level

Special Abilities: Backstab for double damage.

Climb Walls: 77 in 100
Find Concealed/Secret Doors: 37 in 100/20 in 100
Find/Remove Traps: 25 in 100
Hear Noise: 13 in 100
Hide in Shadows: 25 in 100
Move Silently: 21 in 100
Open Locks: 29 in 100
Pick Pockets: 35 in 100

Baiters can broad jump 3’, broad jump 3’ standing, and broad jump 7’ running.

Limitations: Baiters cannot perform their special abilities while wearing armor heavier than heavy leather armor or light studded leather.

Obligations: Baiters must pay 100 gp in membership fees to join the regional thieves’ guild (most likely the Master Thieves’ Guild of Chillavo, Junior League). They must live as if no higher than middle lower class, even if they are not. They must steal at least 25 gp worth of valuables by luring people into fights (alternatively through gambling) before leveling.

Level Three
Title: Bully XP: 2,000-3,500
HD: +1d6 Fights As: 1st level

Special Abilities: Backstab for double damage.

Climb Walls: 79 in 100
Find Concealed/Secret Doors: 39 in 100/22 in 100
Find/Remove Traps: 30 in 100
Hear Noise: 15 in 100
Hide in Shadows: 25 in 100
Move Silently: 27 in 100
Open Locks: 33 in 100
Pick Pockets: 40 in 100

Bullies can high jump 3 ¼’, broad jump 3 ½’ standing, and broad jump 7 ½’ running.

Limitations: Bullies cannot perform their special abilities while wearing armor heavier than heavy leather or light studded leather.

Obligations: Bullies must pay 150 gp in annual membership fees to the regional thieves’ guild (still most likely the Master Thieves’ Guild of Chillavo, Junior League). They must live as if no higher than upper lower class, even if they are not. They must steal at least 60 gp worth of valuables before leveling.

Level Four
Title: Poacher XP: 3,501-5,500
HD: +1d6 Fights As: 2nd level

Special Abilities: Backstab for triple damage.

Climb Walls: 83 in 100
Find Concealed/Secret Doors: 42 in 100/25 in 100
Find/Remove Traps: 36 in 100
Hear Noise: 18 in 100
Hide in Shadows: 31 in 100
Move Silently: 34 in 100
Open Locks: 38 in 100
Pick Pockets: 45 in 100

Poachers can high jump 3 ½’, broad jump 4’ standing, and broad jump 8’ running.

Limitations: Poachers cannot perform their special abilities while wearing armor heavier than heavy studded leather or light scalemail.

Obligations: Poachers must pay 200 gp in membership fees to the regional thieves’ guild (still most likely the Master Thieves’ Guild of Chillavo, Junior League). They must live as if no higher than lower middle class, even if they are not. They must steal at least 135 gp worth of valuables before leveling.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An Armor Class Revision


Every combatant has an Armor Class, whether he is wearing armor or not. For Player Characters and most humanoid Non-Player Characters, Armor Class is an accurate measure of how much armor that person is wearing. For monsters, Armor Class is a more amorphous reading of size, speed, toughness, supernatural power, and a variety of other factors. An Armor Class of 0 is no protection at all. An Armor Class of 10 is very well protected.

Despite how Armor Class is acquired, it is always a number that helps determine if a target takes damage. How Armor Class is used to determine that depends on whether the damage is caused by an impact or piercing attack.

Impact attacks. The goal of impact attacks is to do damage through armor, instead of bypassing it. For purposes of rolling to hit, all targets are treated as if Armor Class 1 (Dexterity and certain other modifiers to the roll still apply, see Dexterity and Combat). If a hit is scored, damage is rolled, and the Armor Class is subtracted from the damage before the target takes any damage. For example, a target with an Armor Class of 5 is hit for 4 points of damage, counting all modifiers, but after subtracting the Armor Class takes no damage. If the damage had been 6, the target would take 1 point of damage.

Piercing attacks. The goal of piercing attacks is to bypass armor and do damage around it, exploiting any gaps or holes in protection. The attacker’s roll to hit is more difficult, as every modifier is stacked to it, but a hit always means full damage.

Any piercing weapon can be used as an impact weapon for half damage. Certain weapons can be used as an impact or a piercing weapon equally – a dart flung from an atlatl, a crossbow, or any other bow.

Armor bestows cumulative points of protection, so that a helmet, shield, bracers, and greaves can all be worn with any armor. Heavy padding or light hide armor can both be worn under any other armor.

Wearing armor has a negative impact on Dexterity, so that every point of Armor Class worn confers a –1 penalty to maximum Dexterity. So, a human wearing no armor could have a maximum Dexterity of 18, but would have a maximum Dexterity of 16 while wearing heavy hide armor, or a maximum Dexterity of 7 while wearing bracers, greaves, a helm, heavy padded armor, heavy segmented armor, and carrying a shield (the negative modifier for low Dexterity would drop that Armor Class back down to 10). This is not a number subtracted from the Dexterity score itself, so a Dexterity of 18 would become 7, but so would a 14 or a 12.

Additional notes about armor are as follows:
Spangens are open-faced helms. They may or may not have nasal guards.
Light armor is typically a shorter coat, with short sleeves, or with no cuisses (leggings).
Heavy padded armor confers 2 points of Armor Class vs impact weapons only. Light padded armor is merely clothing.
Light scaled armor is also known as studded armor, because the scales do not overlap.
Heavy segmented armor is made of steel bands and is also known as banded armor.
Light segmented armor is typically made of laminated wood.
Shields are typically made in an elongated oval or diamond shape, out of wood bound with iron. Larger or smaller shields, or ones of other composition are not commonly available.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Combat Round Sequence Revision


When combat starts, game time is broken down into rounds of 20 seconds.

Round sequence:
0. Initiative goes to the side with the highest roll on 1d6. The highest roller determines which side goes first and all attacks throughout the sequence go in this order. Ties are broken as follows: spells go before missiles, missiles go before melee, longer weapons go first when entering melee, lighter weapons go first in an ongoing melee.
1. Winning side moves and chooses targets.
2. Winning side fires readied missile weapons or very light missile weapons; losing side(s) move and choose targets.
3. Winning side casts any 1st-level spells, makes charge attacks, or first melee attacks with a distinct advantage (twice the length or half the weight of the opponent’s weapon, for example); losing side(s) fire readied missile weapons
4. Winning side makes attacks of opportunity (attacks made on a different target instead of the initially chosen target), first missile attacks with very light or light missile weapons if not previously readied; losing side(s) cast any 1st-level spells, make charge attacks, or first melee attacks with a distinct advantage.
5. Winning side casts any 2nd-level spells, makes first missile attacks with heavy missile weapons if not previously readied, second missile attacks with very light missile weapons; losing side(s) make attacks of opportunity, first missile attacks with very light or light missile weapons if not previously readied.
6. Winning side makes second attacks with very light melee weapons (if fights as F2+), makes second attacks with light missile weapons; losing side(s) cast any 2nd-level spells, makes first missile attacks with heavy missile weapons if not previously readied, second missile attacks with very light missile weapons.
7. Winning side makes second attacks with light melee weapons (if fights as F3+), makes first attacks with unreadied very heavy missile weapons (crossbows); losing side(s) makes second attacks with very light melee weapons, makes second attacks with light missile weapons.
8. Winning side fires any third arrows (bows only, not crossbows; if fights as F3+); losing side(s) makes second attacks with light melee weapons, makes first attacks with unreadied very heavy missile weapons.
9. Losing side(s) fire any third arrows.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Revising Hit Points

[From the same rules tinkerings, some different rules for hit points in D&D]

Hit Points represent all factors that stand between your character and death – physical health, ability to defend oneself, luck, etc. During the game, particularly during combat, your character will suffer Hit Point (hp) attrition. This is not a serious problem until hp begins to run low.

Light Wounds. Most hp loss reflects light wounds – scratches and bruises, or may reflect other factors, like fatigue. The Dungeon Master may be as descriptive as he likes, but light wounds do not typically alter game mechanics.

Serious Wounds. No matter how many hp a character has, it is the last three hp that matter most. These points represent the physical body and the loss of any of these points means serious physical injury. The character must make a saving throw vs. paralysis, poison (see Saving Throws) at once or fall prone. The character can choose to spend a round standing up, but will suffer a -1 penalty to all rolls until he is healed to more than three hp.

Unconsciousness. If a character is dropped to exactly zero hp, that character is unconscious until healed, or enough time passes to heal.

Critical Wounds. A character who has been reduced to -1 or -2 is critically injured and will soon die unless magically healed. The character must make a fortitude saving throw or will lose consciousness. The character must receive magical healing during the combat in which critically injured or in the round immediately after the battle, or the character dies.

Death. A character dies if left crucially wounded too long, or as soon as brought down to -3 hp. At these levels, characters are very unlikely to find a way to cheat death. Players are advised to work out details with the other players as to what will become of the character’s possessions in case of death. If not claimed by the other players, the player could will their possessions to a new character.

Healing. A character, if not magically healed, will heal after normal rest at the rate of 1 hp per night of rest (CON will determine how many hours that requires). There must be some degree of comfort for healing (soft surface, no loud, sustained noise, and no breaks for combats with wandering monsters) to take place at this rate. Wearing armor while sleeping also adds one hour of rest required per point of Armor Class.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another Magic-User Revision

Magic-User. Those who pursue power through the likes of alchemy, mysticism, or witchcraft are magic-users. These men have devoted their lives thus far to the study of magic, so that they may wield miraculous powers through study similar to how clerics do by invoking the gods. While the rewards of powerful spells await them later in their careers, the starting magic-user has but one spell he may cast. He must memorize the spell from his spellbook, and cast the spell that same day or else loose it from his memory. Once a spell is cast, the magical energy actually leaves the caster's body, taking the memory of how to cast the spell with it. There is a chance, however, for magic-users to be able to recall a cast spell – literally holding the magical energy in place with mental prowess. Otherwise, all cast spells must be re-memorized the following night.

A magic-user must have his hands free and be able to speak to cast a spell. Most spells require some kind of material components. Unless specified in the spell description, the components can be presumed to be common items the magic-user can easily find and carry. While the rewards of powerful spells await them later in their careers, the starting magic-user has but one spell he may memorize and hold in his mind ready to cast. He must memorize the spell from his spellbook, and cast the spell that same day or else lose it from his memory. Once a spell is cast, the magical energy actually leaves the caster's body, taking the memory of how to cast the spell with it. Otherwise, magic-users can cast spells while studying them from their spellbooks, but with a casting time considerably longer (15 minutes per spell level).

Intelligence is the prime requisite for magic-users, and they gain benefits for having high Intelligence scores. Humans and demi-humans can all wield magic and progress as magic-users evenly at lower levels. Only at the highest levels do demi-humans slow in their advancement and full-blooded humans begin to outperform them.

All this studying has left the magic-user with little time for martial training. Unless multi-classed, a magic-user does not know how to use any weapons other than clubs, darts, daggers, javelins/spears, maces, sickles, and staves; and is unable to wear any armor heavier than padded armor (and that with a 3 in 6 chance of spell failure) and still cast spells.

At any time, the magic-user may research new spells. The magic-user may research a spell of any spell level that the magic-user is able to cast. Thus, a journeyman could research only 1st level spells, while a medium could research 3rd level spells.
Your DM has guidelines for spell research.

Level Level Title Experience Points Hit Dice Fights As Spells
1 Journeyman 0-1,870 1d4 F1 (1d4) 1 1st level
2 Prestidigitator 1,871-3,750 2d4 F1 (1d4) 2 1st level
3 Medium 3,751-7,500 3d4 F1 (1d4) 2 1st level, 1 2nd level