Monday, November 27, 2023

TROIKA! Background: Homo Algus

They are frightened of you, the little dry ones. They fear your long face and your long limbs. They mistake your little lights for cruel will-o-wisps. They mistake your attempts to deliver food and medicine for attacks, and drive you off with torches and peat knives. You would have spurned the dry ones long ago, were it not for the fact that you seem to know them. You remember them from a time long, long ago, before you were born from the mud, and they were even littler.

If they would just stop running away, perhaps you could ask them what they mean when they call you a "bog body".


  • Lots of Algae
  • Even More Algae.
  • Excessive Amounts of Algae!
  • Favorite Pebble (perfectly round)

Advanced Skills

3 Swim
2 Herblore
2 Sneak (4 in Wetlands)
1 Acrobatics
1 Climb
1 Spell - Light
1 Strength


You may enter a state of suspended animation known as the "Swamp Hunch". During a Hunch you sit perfectly, deathly still for up to a week at a time. During that time you do not need to eat provisions, and others must Test their Luck to recognize you as anything other than a very misplaced sculpture. It takes 1 hour to enter or leave a Hunch, as your joints pop and your metabolism adjusts.

More photos of the original exhibit by Sophie Prestigiacomo.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

TROIKA! Background: Moondog

 Moondog, the Viking of 6th Street

Whether you're rubbing shoulders with Yardbird and the King of Swing, praying at your altar to Thor at home, or accidentally scaring the hell out of New York City couriers in darkened entryways, you do everything with a groove and a sense of vision that not even a dynamite cap to the face can cramp.

Go forth under the howl-honored moon, and remember the beat that Chief Yellow Calf taught you.


  • Spear, mostly for show.
  • Horned helmet, jauntily tilted.
  • A Trimba, Oo, or other idiosyncratic homemade instrument.
  • Beard like a homeless wizard (which you are).

Advanced Skills

4 Acute Hearing
3 Classical Avant-Garde Jazz
3 Music Theory
2 Couplet Poetry
1 Religion (Old Norse)


Once per day during combat or another situation that uses the Initiative Stack, you may activate Snaketime. This strange, slithery rhythm dislocates you from time and space, allowing you to briefly move through it as you please. You may remove as many tokens from the Initiative Stack or add as many previously drawn tokens back into it as you like, with the exceptions that you can't remove the End of the Round token or add the tokens of dead characters back in. This special ability lasts for 1 round, then time and Initiative return to normal.

Additionally, if you are ever reduced to 0 Stamina and the End of Round token is drawn (meaning you die), you may activate Snaketime regardless of whether or not you've already used it that day. Afterward, death rules apply normally.

Humanity might die in 4/4 time, but you won't.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

The One Where Furt Tries to Overcome His Crippling Fear of Reading With the Help of a C-Tier Dragonlance Novel and Then Just Ends up Summarizing the Whole Thing

Longtime readers might know that I'm a bundle of anxieties masquerading as a sapient being. Somewhat counterproductively, these anxieties dominate a major facet of my chosen hobby and (if I'm being extremely generous to myself) career path:

I get so upset and agitated sitting and reading long-form text that I would almost call it a phobia.

The feelings that gradually run through me when I try to read something longer than a Wikipedia article in one sitting are a pretty weird mix of issues, most of them probably unrelated in origin, but I can't say that confidently.

The oldest feeling I've always had, ever since I was little, is an excruciating awareness that I am reading something. Within a few minutes of sitting down and trying to focus, I begin to grow restless. My arms get tired from holding up their own weight (and the added weight of the book), or my neck aches from looking down at my desk or lap. My eyes jump and reread the same lines over and over, but even so, my reading comprehension plummets and I find myself forgetting what I read just a few pages or paragraphs ago. This, coupled with the fact that I read as fast or slightly slower than my speaking voice, means I slow to a crawl.

Next I begin to hear the creaking of my joints, and feel the churning of my organs. My breathing is never automatic while I'm awake; I don't know if it's some kind of daytime apnea or what. But here it's soon joined by the sensation that I need to remind myself to blink or swallow, or an awareness of the feeling of my tongue in my mouth and the smell of the inside of my own nose.

Next, as the minutes tick past, comes the guilt. Despite my lack of social media presence I am one of those "terminally online" people. I have far more important personal connections over the internet than face-to-face, and I want to be clear that that part is okay. That's a reality that a lot of people live with this weird, disconnected society that we have in this technologically fortunate corner of the globe that me and statistically most of my audience occupy.

But where it turns into a problem is the way I respond to that reality. By divorcing myself from a screen for so long, or even just looking at a different screen in the case of using an e-reader, I feel as though I'm selfishly disconnecting and shutting myself off from other people who might want or need me- and considering how agitated I get trying to read, I begin to ask myself "for what possible benefit?"

Finally, way back somewhere in my reptile brain, there's always that tickle of existential pain.

Language is two or more unique meat-computers cobbling together a facsimile of mutual understanding through the use of noises that carry with them multiple layers of abstracted meaning. The speaker's brain thinks a thing, then tries to break those thoughts down into constituent parts, then tries to match those parts to words that they then speak to the listener's brain. The listener's brain then receives those words and—shared vocabulary willing—tries to reconstruct the first brain's meaning using its own separate set of building-block connotations between those same noises and the meaning attached to each, which are created through that second brain's fundamentally different lived experience from the first.

If two people are talking about a tree, then there are actually three entirely different trees present: the tree in the speaker's imagination, the tree as it is capable of being rendered in human speech, and the tree in the listener's imagination. And that's the way it has to be. Barring the invention of technology that allows people to accurately and directly beam their thoughts to one another, no one will ever know exactly what another person means. The same goes for art, music, and every other form of expression that tries to communicate the concept of a tree, or infinitely more complex ideas like emotions.

Most people who learn about this concept will make peace with the fact that it's weird, but it is what it is. Or maybe they'll exult in the miracle of language and the amazing humanoid achievements suggested by the fact that we are able to cooperate and communicate at all like this. I was first introduced to the idea by Innuendo Studio's examination of Davey Wreden's The Beginner's Guide, which takes it in stride while diving into semiotics, death of the author, and other stuff like that.

I do not take it in stride. I find the idea painful to deal with. I hate knowing that my interpretation of a story is 'wrong'. It reminds me of how flimsy and subjective our ideas of meaning are, and from there I typically spiral into obsessing over how by extension we are as unreal and invalid as the contents of a book. Then I usually settle into desperately willing the universe to conjure up a bubble of false vacuum decay and please just end it all already.

Keep in mind, this is all happening while I'm trying to read through a breakfast scene in a fricking Redwall book.

So yeah. I have some hang-ups about reading books, and my resulting avoidance of the medium has shaped my life enormously, in ways that I know and probably don't know. As a kid I always felt like I was nerding "wrong" by not being the bookworm or comic book geek. As I've grown older I've started to lament the hypothetical worthwhile experiences I could have had but never did. I'd say the last time I read an entire book purely for my own enjoyment separate from schoolwork was sometime during senior year in high school.

Visual media like shows and video games played a far bigger role in my development, and online gaming had a direct hand in making the creature that I am today. I opt for adaptations of books because even when they flop or grossly conflict with how most people interpret the text, they at least give me someone else's interpretation of the world to replace my own with, and that feels somehow more legitimate and permissible than my own. More official.

This doesn't sit well with me. I know I'm missing out, and it diminishes my enjoyment of other media by proxy. But usually I just avoid the issue entirely. Very rarely, I'll make a half-measure like listening to audiobooks. Sometimes I'll even finish them, but more often than not the extra voices become too distracting for someone who basically lives inside of a Skype call.

Every few years I do take a crack at "real" reading, but it usually only lasts a few pages before I fall off again. I never found a way to incentivize myself to finish a book.

Until now.

Because now, I've had an idea. If I can make myself accountable to an external party, such as you fine Burrowers (and the bots that inflate my site traffic), then I am that much more likely to follow through with the task. Because otherwise, I don't even have a finished story to relay here, and the post will remain an unfinished draft mocking me from my dashboard each and every day.

I realize that trying to outweigh the pressure of reading by using the pressure of not reading and therefore squandering a blog post I've already started writing is maybe not the healthiest technique. But it's the best plan I've had in a while, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Of course the plan isn't perfect. I can't just start reading anything under artificial duress. I still need it to be something that I have an interest in. Preferably, it's something that I also already have some familiarity with, so that I have an experiential base for my imagination to draw upon. Finally, it should be something bland, low-stakes, and utterly inconsequential to the real world and humanity's place within it.

I know just the thing!

I tease, I tease.

While I've gone on record as saying that Dragonlance is kind of past its prime as an IP (and especially as a moneymaker for its owners), I don't actually dislike it all that much. Like many kids, the original Dragonlance trilogy was one of my first experiences reading through a huge, high fantasy setting- I didn't get around to the LotR books until after high school, and when I did they were in the form of the admittedly wonderful audiobooks by Phil Dragash.

The series' central themes of faith and the balance between good and evil feel increasingly stupid to me the older I get, but the world of Krynn still holds a quaint charm for me, the way you might like certain parts of a mostly cringey '80s cartoon. The huge history always meant that there was something of passing interest to me somewhere, somewhen. It was also the closest thing to a culturally diverse fantasy series that I experienced for a long time, what with its prominent protagonists of vaguely Native American and Black inspiration- although you wouldn't know that from looking at the cover art that makes most of them white.

I really should read Earthsea someday.

Also for some reason I still think it's so cool that Krynn's major continent is in its southern hemisphere, with all the changes to geography and climate that entails? I'm sure fiction writers have been using that trope for a hundred years or more, but these books were what opened my tiny whelpling mind to the fact that you could do something like that and I just think that's neat.

Anyway, yes. I have chosen to read a Dragonlance novel for this little project of mine.

Next, I have to choose which one. Which you might think would be the bigger challenge, given that there are over 200 books in the series, spread across dozens of trilogies, anthologies, sagas, etc., all written by different authors with different abilities and areas of focus. And it's not like my past reading narrows the list down much- I read the original trilogy, the finale/reboot Dragons of Summer Flame, and one book in the Ergoth series. I've never even read the Twins series that is, as I've learned during research for this post, one half of the "Holy Six" that everyone recommends starting their Dragonlance journey with.

But this is one area where my brand of one-trick-ponyism comes in mighty handy.

I'm not even sure which of the 200+ Dragonlance novels this entry is, because every publication list I looked at online gave different numbers depending on which modules or anthologies they included or excluded from the lineup. The Rebellion could be the 140th in the series, or the 152nd, or the 182nd. Suffice it to say it's pretty high up there.

The Stonetellers series is a trilogy set during the latest era of the Dragonlance timeline, the Age of Mortals that started in the wake of the gods' war against their dad (or maybe uncle?) Chaos. Chaos was trapped inside a rock for eons and then decided to erase the gods and their entire world as payback. Obviously he failed, but the whole ordeal combined with the goddess Takhisis' unceasing machinations led to a pretty serious shakeup of the status quo. I talked more about the magical consequences of this in my recent 3E OdditE post about Ambient Tempests.

In hindsight this move was pretty clearly meant by TSR to set Dragonlance up for a new series of books with new protagonists and new challenges (as well as to market the new spin-off RPG using the SAGA system) that ended up not performing so well. The huge changes to the setting split the fanbase, and after a few years the entire story arc was revealed to have been a deception by Takhisis, with the world returning to something closer to what it was beforehand. I see it as a hasty rewrite from corporate to try and course-correct, but I have no evidence for that.

In the aftermath of all that mess, a plethora of Age of Mortals books has released that explore the less well-known parts of the world, far and away from the entrenched protagonist families that became central in the Summer Flame era. You can probably make a comparison here to how liberating or refreshing it is to read a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel that isn't about a Skywalker or a Solo, but of course I've never read any of those either.

The first installment in the Stonetellers series is, as the image above suggests, The Rebellion. In it, a group of goblin slaves find an opportunity to cast off their chains and seize some measure of justice and self-determination after their people have been unrelentingly shat upon for the better part of thousands of years. That is the extent of my knowledge of the book so far, but it's enough to entice me.

Goblins occupy an interesting position in Dragonlance, if you'll allow me to use 'interesting' as a synonym for 'pathetic' for a moment. They typically exist as another species of mooks to be bossed around by bigger and meaner villains, and hobgoblins essentially replace orcs, who are not native to the planet Krynn. But draconians do much of the same- and corrupted dragon people raised from eggs to be Spartanesque soldiers and perfect minions of evil are a touch more compelling and visually exciting than "D&D goblins, again". So goblins have almost always been backup minion fodder on Krynn when the Dragonlords and evil clerics don't have better folks under their employ- a pretty ignominious position to be in.

There are exceptions here and there, like the peaceful and "civilized" Ergothian goblin province of Sikk'et Hul, or the weirdly Blackadder-esque story dedicated to the grotesque but comically lucky little hobgoblin despot, Lord Toede. But those instances are rare and often unserious, so I was surprised to find that someone wrote an entire and sincere trilogy about them. Or at least I'm assuming it's serious- I haven't started reading yet.

Jean Rabe, the author, has a somewhat soured reputation among at least one vocal part of the Dragonlance fanbase. Her Dragons of the New Age trilogy was the one that carried the Age of Mortals forward with all its radical alterations, and some of the onus of things being too different and bad is placed upon her writing, or even her personally. In her defense I will say that the changes technically began with Summer Flame, even if it was originally intended by Weis and Hickman to be the Dragonlance finale. Other than that I don't know a thing about her, but she's the first Dragonlance author I've seen write about goblins this way, so I'm going to give her the benefit of a doubt.

It occurs to me that I've been infodumping a lot here to put off actually reading. That stops now.

I am going to make use of my first-ever jump break to mark my first-ever intrapostal time skip for whatever this nightmare is turning into, because I know it will be longwinded. What follows will be my "live" commentary as I work through the book in chunks.