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Friday, March 31

DVD Review: Saw

Is it gross? Not really. Other than the thought of how disgusting some things are, the "wet" factor is it relatively mild. Is it scary? Definitely. There's enough gruesome traps and awful choices that one of them is bound to strike a nerve with every viewer, enough to make your skin crawl. In that respect, Saw is a resounding success. [MORE]

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Thursday, March 30

Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 6: Ambush

Qutinus pointed at the sniper on the roof. “Stop him!” he shouted.

“I can’t get a shot!” shouted Ilmarė.

Holden finished reloading and aimed his rifle. “Me neither.” He began rifling through his satchel. “So we’ll have to hit him with a broader blast.”

“You’re going to throw a grenade at him?” asked Xerxes in disbelief.

Holden sparked his flint and steel and something hissed in response from his satchel. “Not a grenade,” he said. “All of them.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, March 29

Movie Review: Flightplan

The subtle message throughout Flightplan is that despite our heightened awareness of terrorist, we rarely pay attention to each other. It's easy to focus on the dark-skinned man with the beard, but apparently much harder to keep track of a blonde mother and her daughter. Why? Because we don't SEE her anymore, even though she's right in front of us. [MORE]

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Tuesday, March 28

Brittleactica: Planet in Need

It involves cows and possibly Battlestar Galactica. Or maybe just cows. [MORE]

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Game Review: Champions of Norrath: Call to Arms

If you've played any of the Baldur's Gate series (I've beaten them all) or the previous installment of the EverQuest game for PS2, then you're now familiar with Snowblind Studios' game engine. So familiar, in fact, that you probably can't tell you're playing a different game.

We had already beaten Champions of Norrath and, hungry to use all the neat new powers and weapons we gained in the first game, purchased its sequel, Call to Arms. This time I played Quintus, a cleric, while my wife played Ilmare, an archer. We were back at it again, hacking and slashing our way to fame and fortune. But it all seemed so familiar…

That's because this is the same friggin' game! [MORE]

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Scouts Faulted for Lack of Lightning Safety

Just found this. Looks like one of my distant relatives was hit by lightning. :(

CLIFTON , N.J. – The forecast was ugly the day Matthew Tresca died.

The National Weather Service warned throughout the afternoon of severe weather in the Pocono Mountains where the teenager and more than 300 other Boy Scouts were at a one-week camp.

At the end of supper, as lightning flashed in the distance, scout leaders dismissed the boys from the dining hall and sent them to their tented campsites in the woods. Around 7 p.m., lightning struck a tent pole near the picnic table where 16-year-old Matthew sat under a tarp. He suffered cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead within 90 minutes. [MORE]

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Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 5b: Imprisonment!

“I think there’s something in that globe,” said Ilmarė, pointing at the glass sphere.

“Something?” asked Vlad.

“It looks like…a little person.”

“What’s he doing?” asked Holden.

Ilmarė picked up the sphere and held it to the light. Then she shook it. “Not much. He’s dead.”

“Let me see it?” asked Vlad. She threw it to the warrior.

Suddenly, the thrumming, rolling noise started again. Another of the glass globes rolled on the floor towards Kham. A being was vigorously running inside of it.

“If that’s a hamster, I’m leaving,” said Kham. [MORE]

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Sunday, March 26

Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 5a: Imprisonment!

There was the sound of splintered wood and Vlad stumbled back out of the doorway with a fist-sized dent in his shield. “Something big,” he said.

“And angry,” said Kham, pointing at the thing that shambled through the doorway.

It looked as though it had been constructed from a grisly assortment of decaying human body parts. They were all stitched and bolted together into a form taller than a living man.

“Golem!” shouted Ilmarė. [MORE]

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Friday, March 24

The Slowskys

Bill and Karolyn Slowsky love DSL. So much that they've become DSL's national spokes-turtles. Watch their commercials. Read Karolyn's blog. [MORE]

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Thursday, March 23

My Finalized I-CON Schedule

I-CON, the Northeast's largest convention of science fiction, fact and fantasy, is held annually on the campus of Stony Brook University. Attended by over 6,000 people each year, I-CON is a three day festival, designed to encourage literacy, creativity and interest in science and technology through science fiction and its related genres.

FRIDAY, MARCH 24
SATURDAY, MARCH 25

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Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 4b: The Grand Hall

“We don’t go upstairs!” said the goblin.

“Ghosts,” whispered one of the other goblins.

“Yes, ghosts,” murmured the pack of them, each whispering to each other in turn.

“The ghost is upstairs!” It pointed one tiny bony finger at the flapping sheet. “The sheet protects us!”

Quintus stared up at the ceiling. “How do you know there’s a ghost?”

There was a long, low noise from the ceiling. It was the sound of something rolling across the second floor.

“We are doomed!” whispered the lead goblin. He was met with wails of “doomed!” and “woe is us!”

“Stop that!” shouted Quintus. [MORE]

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The Party's Over

Oh man. They told us the lines would be long in disembarking, but not THIS long. In theory, one can leave at 8 am. In practice, we left arounf 9:30. And that was with us patiently NOT getting on line. The line wends down a staircase, then your "Sign and Sail" card is scanned as you leave the boat. This card is the root of all evil, like the devil's credit card, tempting you to sin at every turn.

Anyway, after the fisrt 1 and 1/2 hour line, you get on the line to get your luggage. Theb you get on a customs line, where they inspected nothing. Then you get on a bus line. 45 minutes later, you get on a ticket line. Then yoiu get on a luggage security check-out line. Then you get on a security line. Then you wait for the plane.

All these lines (at this point, six hours of lines), tired me out. I need a vacation!

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The Last Day

We managed to keep ourselves busy, sunning (err, burning) on deck, watching a really chesy "Broadway-inspired" show, enjoying the hilarious jokes of a magician, and of course drinling, drinking, drinking.

The captain must have really opened the throttle, because the ship was shuddering hard...my suspicion is they had to gun it to return to Florida in time. It was strong enough to slam the cabin's bathroom door.

Speaking of which, we thought our cabin was fine: king sized bed, window to the ocean, and near all the events. Not everyone had the same arrangement. Apparently, interior rooms have a fake window with curtains over a wall. One passerby peeked into our room and loudly pronounced that they wanted to "get a room like that next time". That almost made us feel better about the bill we got at the end of the trip. Whew!

We watched Flightplan on the in-cabin tv and then went to bed, ready to disembark the next morning. Little did we know...

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Fun Day at Sea

Now we sail back to Florida. It takes all day to get there, since we're not making any stops. A couple of observations:

Our cruise director, Paul, is a British benevolent version of Robert DeNiro. He tells jokes, he speaks to us over the intercom, he even sings. This is what I Imagine god is like, always with a vague smile on his face like he knows something really funny that you don't.

This is the land of Watch Your Step. Every entrancr has a lip, a step, a drop-off, or some kind of lip you have to carefully traverse. This includes the bathroom and the shower. My guess is because they need to control the flow of water to prevent flooding. That doesn't quite explain why every stall in Freeport and Nassau has the same problem. Or maybe it does.

The hurricanes devastated the region. That's why there's both construction and destroyed houses in the same area. The construction companies haven't caught up.

Like Disney, cruise ships are suffused with their own spercial brand of musical diarrehea. In this case, it's 90% Jamiroquai and Beach Boys. It all blends together after awhile.

There are a lot of grumpy old men on cruises. They seem to have an attitude about everything, and aren't interested in the usual niceties. Maybe it's because they've been on cruises before, maybe it's because they're from money and expect a higher level of service...whatever, they need an attitude adjustment and I thought cruises did just that. If this won't work...they're pretty much perma-grumpy!

The island peoples are an odd mixture of evangelicals and hedonism. Shirts that praise god are right next to shirts describing (and in some cases, displaying) some pretty lewd positions. Go figure.

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The Formal Dinner

Cruise ships are funny. Everything is a limited time, special offer discount. But how would we, who have only been on the ship a whopping 2 days, know the difference?

We don't. So I don't buy that anything is actually a good deal.

Anyway, the formal dinner was great. The food was delicious, especially the chocolate cake we had in honor of the other guests at our table's anniversary. The cocktail hour had dancing, but it was up on stage in front of everybody...just a little awkward.

And now for the bad news...while doing a photo shoot in the Cat's Lounge (wherein everything is sized to a cat's perspective), WE LOST STUNT STANLEY #1!

Don't worry, that's why we have multiple Stanleys. Stunt Stanley #2 is looking a little nervous...

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The Day After

First thing we discovered after waking up from our drunken haze...they TAPED us while we were dancing on stage. Fortunately, nobody seemed to care, because none of the guests we ate with recognized us.

We set out to shop in Nassau, which is the "real" pirate haven. Shopping was fun, though the "Straw Market" was more of the same crap we saw in Freeport.

After we went back to the ship to eat, we discovered a whole new kind of cleaning staff waiting impatiently on the rails of the ship: black-beaked seagulls. When guests got up to leave and left their food behind, a bird brawl would break out. It'd be funny if it wasn't for all that infernal honking. Then was back to Nassau for my personal highlight...the Pirate Museum!

Next...pirates!

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Pirates of Nassau

The bus tour took us to two different historical monuments. Our host was Muskgrove, a well-spoken older man who knew everything about the island.

What Stanley learned: 70% of Bahamian income is from tourism. There are steps labelled the Queens' Steps because there were 66 steps, and the former slaves who built it dedicated it to her. There's just one problem: she ruled fof 64 years. No worries, due to nature and man, one of the steps has worn away. Give it another 10 years and the Queen's Steps will finally be accurate!

I also used the flash on my camera to take pictures of a dark dungeon in a fort. It was so dark I didn' dare go inside. I won't know what it looked like until I see the pictures develop!

Back to pirates. The last leg of the tour drops you off at the pirate museum. We were greeted bya crazy pirate actor and then in we went. Lots of wax dummies and explosions, some ad hoc quizzes and then...pirate merchandise!

That's what I'd come for. I bought a lot. It sems that Nassau's pirate history is not something the locals are too fond of...in the same way Cornish locals don't like to talk a bout the witch museum there. No matter, I'm in my pirate phase, so this was just what the cruise doctor ordered. More shopping and then we went bakc to the boat.

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The Glass Bottom Boat

The boat tour takes far longer to get to the destination than the time you spend looking at fish. Also, you're not actually standing on a glass-bottomrd boat, but rather out six windows that are below deck.

When we got to the destination, I was suspicious, because the fish started following us. Sure enough, it's because we fed them bread: mental note, fish are smarter than I thought.

Stanley learned that dore is thye name of the same blue fish in Finding Nemo. That's kind of like naming your dog Dog.

Next...the Formal Dinner!

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Freeport at Last!

There's no hairdryer in our room and we didn't bring one. We just discovered why...the power shorted out in our room.

Stanley got the opportunity to take a picture with Julius Caesar yesterday. He's really well-connected!

We went to breakfast and thence disembarked for the pirate capital of Arcanis, Freeport! OK, not really. Apparently Freeport was modelled after the Caribbean islands, including Nassau and Freeport. I had high expectations.

Well, stanley can back me up on this...Freeport sucks. It's a dingy littlle island with lots of construction of new houses evevn though many houses are boarded up.

The place has one store wuth 50 different crappy plastic items. Then they make 200 different stalls, all with varying combinations of those items. I ended up buying...a shirt. That's it. I couldn't even find anything with Freeport on it.

Next...the Glass Bottom Boat.

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Saturday, March 18

DVD Review: I, Claudius

What makes I, Claudius such a fantastic miniseries is the quality of its actors. Sure, you can watch it to see young Patrick Stewart and John Rhys-Davies in their prime, but that's missing the point. It's the actors who make this miniseries so watchable, from the husband/wife bickering of Augustus (Brian Blessed) and Livia (Sian Phillips), the weary bitterness of Tiberius (George Baker), the utter madness of Caligula (John Hurt), or Claudius himself, played with weary patience by Derek Jacobi. This isn't just filmmaking, it's a snapshot in time of when actors actually acted. Sometimes, the camera stays on an actor for up to 20 minutes straight, without a cutaway scene. [MORE]

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DVD Review: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Maybe the fans aren't perfect. Maybe they could focus their efforts on something more constructive. But there are a lot worse things. If Americans want to believe in a mystical force of good, in the power for families to come together despite their differences, then maybe their devotion isn't so bad after all. In the old days we used to call that religion. Today, we call it Star Wars. [MORE]

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I-CON 2006

I-CON, the Northeast's largest convention of science fiction, fact and fantasy, is held annually on the campus of Stony Brook University. Attended by over 6,000 people each year, I-CON is a three day festival, designed to encourage literacy, creativity and interest in science and technology through science fiction and its related genres.

This year, I-CON takes place from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26. I'll be speaking about a variety of gaming topics on different panels throughout the three days. Check out my schedule for more details. I give out free stuff to attendees!

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Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 4a: The Grand Hall

Vlad walked back towards his companions, his blade wet with panther blood. Even a panther’s claws were no match for Nierite full plate. He looked down at Kham.

“Is he…?”

Quintus put the back of one hand to Kham’s throat. “He’ll survive…by Illiir’s Grace,” he said.

“Thanks for your help,” Vlad said to Ilmarė. “But I really didn’t…” he noticed she still had another arrow knocked.

“Don’t look now,” she whispered. “But we’ve got company.” [MORE]

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Thursday, March 16

RPG Review: Madness in Freeport

This adventure has an interesting mix of heavy role-playing, pure dungeoneering, and then a reverse dungeon (going up the lighthouse instead of down into the Temple of Yig). It makes effective use of the environment (sunken caverns) and forces the PCs outside of their comfort zone (adventurers…at a formal ball). As a DM, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, and my PCs rose to the occasion even when I thought the adventure was being a bit unfair. It brought out the best in them. As a bookend to the trilogy, it makes for an excellent denouement. If you want to shake up Freeport and your players, Madness in Freeport will get the job done. [MORE]

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Wednesday, March 15

RPG Review: Terror in Freeport

TIF has some good ideas, but unlike DIF, it railroads like nobody's business. It also glosses over important plot points, leads PCs into traps which are extremely difficult to escape, and expects them to go peacefully with supposed officers of the law all so that they can have a one-on-one conversation with Verlaine.

Well, my PCs SHOT Verlaine's Captain of the Guard in the FACE. Apparently, good old Reikert Lloyd is a favorite NPC, because a whole page is devoted to him when he has no real role in the game (and, incidentally, dies anyway in the assassination at Verlaine's house). Similarly, my PCs saw through every disguise without any rolls, because plot-wise it just didn't make any sense. DIF feels like the middle of two great adventures, tiding you over to give the PCs the big bad guy to fight.

DIF is worth getting if you're playing the trilogy, but it certainly can't be played as a one-off. And given that it stretches believability in some cases (especially that trap), you might find that the PCs surprise you with good old-fashioned common sense and a flintlock pistol to your favorite NPC's face. [MORE]

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Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 3: The House That Lucius Built

Kham walked up to the door and pulled a dagger from the folds of his robe. “I’ll take care of this.”

The hilt of the dagger popped out to reveal connected lockpicks. Kham inserted a series of them into the lock, one after the other. After a series of clicks and snaps, the door sprung open.

Kham smirked over his shoulder. “Piece of CAAAAH!”

Two large claws yanked him through the doorway and out of sight. [MORE]

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Tuesday, March 14

Combat Missions

Check this out from Onara Online:
5 March, 2006 - Scoop! Read all about it ! If you haven't seen it yet, check out the cover art for the Theocracy of Canceri book. Also, we've got word on PCI's summer release list! Aside from the Theocracy of Canceri book, previously announced last year at GenCon, they are also releasing (sometime in the summer months), Censure: City of Thieves, Forged in Magic Revised and Expanded (with 115 new items, all 3.5), a limited softcover reprint of the Player's Guide to Arcanis (including all errata), Combat Missions (for Spycraft 2.0), and PCI's new campaign setting Caliphate Nights (using Green Ronin's True20 system, historical arabian nights fantasy). Enjoy the scoop!
Can it be true? We can only hope.

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Monday, March 13

Etherscope: The Great Metropolis


Industry, Oppression and Corruption

In a world of out-of-control technology where every city chokes on its own filth, one city showcases the extremes. Smokier than London, more corrupt than New York, more productive than Detroit and seedier than Amsterdam, this true megacity supports a population of over 100 million people. Welcome to The Great Metropolis.

Do you accept the challenge?

It is a city of smoke-charred brick, streets packed with wagons, and skies black with bloated cargo zeppelins. A city where corrupt officials grow rich as the workers suffer; a city bled dry by punishing taxes. This is a city on the edge of chaos -- and a city of hope, where heroes are forged from the scraps of society. Revolutionaries threaten London's rule, tab-jammers and Scope riders flood Etherspace from ruined slums, and secret societies battle the ether demons. Can you rise to become a hero in the city that is quintessentially Etherscope?

I contributed to the Northumbrian Republication Movement. [MORE]

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Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 2: The Courtyard of Rebirth

“You did well,” said Holden.

“Too well,” said Ilmarė. “You sent a child to certain death. You did not have to make the boy dance.”

“I gave a senator’s son a glorious end,” said Quintus, keeping his eyes straight ahead. “I did not ask you to come.”

Kham took another swig of the wineskin and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. For once he was silent.

He looked back over his shoulder at the statue of the Sorcerer-King. Then Kham swallowed the rest of the wine in the wineskin. [MORE]

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Thursday, March 9

Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Part 1: Where the Wise Fear to Tread

The Dock Master hesitated.

“Look,” said Quintus. “We lost a lot of men to bring the boy here. Now you can let us through or you can deal with the consequences.”

The Dock Master frowned. “Fine,” he said. “But let Gorman know I helped.”

Quintus nodded. “You’ll get what you deserve,” he muttered as they disembarked. [MORE]

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Monday, March 6

Chapter 12: Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Prologue

Kham shook his head. “For a being that’s been around a long time, you sure haven’t thought this out very well. I just hope your father is where you think he is.”

Sevestia glared daggers at him. “If you fail, I will become all that you fear from Orata and so much more.” Without another word, she turned and closed the door.

Kham raised one hand. “Who votes for ditching this mission and letting the snooty elf chick—no offense Ilmarė—find her father for herself?” [MORE]

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Saturday, March 4

Amber is an "International Best-Selling Author"!

Apparently, my wife, Amber Tresca, is now an "American international best-selling author". Don't believe me?
Amber Tresca, an American international best-selling author, listed these 10 tips as a sure-fire way to overcome the tantalising temptation to eat that last bit of chocolate pudding or smoke that "final" cigarette. [MORE]
It's on the Internet, so it must be true!

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Friday, March 3

Assault Upon the Gate of Tears - Conclusion

In the hold of the Black Ship, demonic beings sat on benches, chained to each other. As soon as Kham entered, they rose to their feet.

“You are not Ymandrake!” one hissed. It was massive, easily as wide as a man’s height. “I will rip you in half and be free of this place!”

Kham held one hand up. A single gold ring sparkled in the dim light of the hold. The demon sat down immediately.

“What is your bidding, master?” it snarled.

“Row,” said Kham. “Row as if your lives depend on it!”

“And if we don’t?” asked another demon.

Kham glared at him. “I was being nice. Your lives depend on it. Now row!” [MORE]

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