Thursday, September 18, 2014

Castles & Crusades - Duck Race

One of my favourite things about RuneQuest (and the follow-on, Basic Roleplaying) was the race of sentient ducks that found its way into every rulebook. It's confusing as to why, but it's fairly amusing. The adventure "The Money Tree", which is in the Advanced RuneQuest (3rd Edition) book, features a wacky duck brigand, for example. The RuneQuest 3e Monsters book and the Basic Creatures book both contain this "odd creature", and in an effort to bring it up to the modern day, I've adapted it for my current RPG beau, the retro-clone Castles & Crusades.

Apparently this has already been done, but here's my attempt anyway. I can't reproduce the original book material as there's no open use license for it, so if you want to know the background of this weird beast, look it up in the references I've given above.

Expanded Race - Duck

Racial Traits and Abilities

Water Affinity - Ducks are naturally at home in and around water, which is where they spend most of their time. They have learned to move stealthily in and around such bodies of water, and as such gain a +2 bonus to such attribute checks. Sentient ducks, whilst at home in the water, are expert boatmen and gain a +4 bonus to any attribute checks involving boats and small watercraft, such as Intelligence checks for boating knowledge or Dexterity checks for handling boats. This bonus does not extend to handling ships. Ducks may also swim in any situations with a +12 bonus to their Strength attribute check. Diving below the surface is also possible; ducks may remain underwater for up to 2 plus 2 times their Constitution modifier in rounds without the need for a Constitution check, in addition to a +6 bonus to Constitution saving throws against drowning.

Ungainly - The webbed feet and hands of the duck, whilst useful for swimming, present some problems for athletic feats. A duck suffers a -4 penalty to attribute checks for climbing or scaling, and a -2 penalty for attribute checks for jumping or leaping. A -1 penalty is also applied when the duck makes a Dexterity saving throw where leaping out of the way of a trap, breath weapon or similar is required.

Fast Talk (Charisma) - Ducks are renowned for talking quickly and confusingly. Duck logic, it seems, is almost irrefutable - but it's all a ruse. Oftentimes the person at which a duck talks is simply baffled by what's being said, and goes along with it to avoid appearing foolish in front of such an odd creature. Once per round, a duck may use this ability to try to persuade or dissuade someone into doing something. If the target fails an Intelligence saving throw (CL 3), they will go along with reasonable instructions, unless this is clearly philosophically or morally unappealing to their nature.

Languages - Duck, Common, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Halfling, Sylvan.

Size - Small.

Movement - 20 feet.

Typical Classes - Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Ranger, Rogue.

Attribute Modifiers - -1 Charisma, +1 Constitution, +1 Dexterity, -1 Strength.

Ranger Modifiers - +2 Conceal, +2 Move Silent, -4 Scale

Rogue and Assassin Modifiers - -4 Climb, +2 Hide, +2 Move Silent

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Heading Columns of Traffic Since 1987 (part III)

A Call to Arms

So I haven't continued my cycling series yet because I've actually had to drive to work the last couple of days. I don't feel so bad about it since there were five in the car for most of it, but still. Anyway, as I've been thinking of ways in which motorists annoy cyclists, it seems to have made me a bit more aware of a few things that cyclists do that might endanger themselves. In the interests of balance I'm going to randomly insert a few of these in the mix here.

Postscript (2013-12-05): I appeared to have opened up a can of worms with this one. My brother pointed me in the direction of the CTC's collection of evidence relating to wearing helmets. It's not going to stop me wearing one, but in the interests of balance I'm adding this here. Make up your own mind, but remember that it might be harder to do this if your head gets squished.

The first one is pretty simple. I have noticed an awful lot this week that a huge bunch of cyclists don't wear appropriate armour. I'm not talking about full BMX body armour, or even full cycling lycra. Seriously, just put a helmet on, and if it's dark, or even if it's not, a bit of high-vis.

There's a bit of a debate at the moment as to whether wearing helmets is safe or not, but I know of at least one chap whose helmet was completely wrecked in a head-on collision with a car. If he had not been wearing said helmet, then that would have been his skull. The photo of the wrecked safety gear made me strap my helmet to my head even more resolutely than usual.

Look at it this way: If you come off your bike and hit your head against something, chances are that it's going to be something pretty hard; a car, the pavement, a wall etc. Hard things mean force passed to your head is pretty serious (I'm simplifying it somewhat). Head trauma is bad for you and bad for people you care about, because they'll end up having to care for you.

Seriously. Put a flippin' helmet on.

(On a side note, if you're planning to rent a Boris Bike in London, I'd also carry a helmet, especially if you're not used to cycling in London. It seems aggression is key when motoring in London, and if you're a tourist not used to where you're going, you'll end up at the hospital.)

As for high-vis, it's about making yourself visible. If you dress from head to toe in black and wonder why drivers don't see you, then you've missed something yourself.

All-in-all, do yourself a favour and dress appropriately. It doesn't need to be expensive or hard, and it could massively save your life. Because as we all know, motorists are pretty stupid.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Heading Columns of Traffic Since 1987 (part II)

As of this morning there'll be some probably pretty regular posts about cycling. Mostly this'll be an angry tirade against motorists (and perhaps occasionally other road users) because, let's be honest, most of them are pretty stupid when it comes to cyclists. I welcome requests for features, but you might have to wait until your particular gripe happens to me.

I will preface all of this by saying that, contrary to when I wrote the first part of this series (about seven years ago), I can drive and do so for long journeys and for shopping. For shorter journeys, like commuting, I cycle or walk, partly because getting public transport is impossible for me, partly because it's cheaper than gym membership but mostly because it's a bunch of fun.

On the other hand, motorists make it a lot less fun and a lot more dangerous.

With that said, here's today's rant: Gap Closing.

One of the main (and they are few and far between) advantages of cycling in cities is that you can zip around traffic when it's queuing for lights or for whatever other idiotic reasons people queue. This is great fun. I tend to count the cars that I pass. On one particular occasion I passed 60 cars before I got to the lights, and some of these were buses with dozens of people on so really it's like a billion people that I beat overtook.

Normally roads on which queues develop have lanes wide enough for cars and cyclists to share the road. When I say share I mean there's enough space for cyclists to pass on at least one side. But occasionally one particularly unintelligent driver thinks it's funny to close the gap on the pavement side.

This is not funny. If you took the time (and it doesn't have to be much time) to look in your near-side mirror you'd notice a cyclist or two in a high-vis jacket. Then either you'd think twice about moving in, or you'd do it anyway (it's okay to be a vindictive eejit if at least you're honest about it).

Being squeezed into the pavement is no laughing matter. For one, I could damage your precious vehicle - nice long scratches down the side maybe, or a broken wing mirror. This would probably count (in your eyes) as being my fault for not being more careful. Furthermore, if my front wheel scrapes the kerb at even relatively low speed I run the risk of coming off and going under your wheels. Probably I'd have to pay to have my innards scraped out of your wheel arches then. Not to mention that hitting the kerb at high speed might cause my wheel to buckle, which is a bit more expensive to repair than getting minor scratches to your crappy little car sorted out.

So next time you're in traffic and are thinking, for whatever inexplicable reason, of closing the gap between you and the kerb, remember: Please look in your near-side mirror first. It's a lot cheaper than scraping lycra out of your brake pads.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Heading columns of traffic since 1987

A lot of people always ask me this, and occasionally I find myself asking the same question: Why did I never learn to drive? Well, did I ever see the point? Did I 'eck...

I couldn't afford it when I was working at Iceland. Well, I suppose theoretically I could have done, since I was earning actually quite a reasonable sum of money, but there were always things that stood in the way, like saving up to go travelling this year or last year, or buying myself a new computer. Actually, I've been really self-indulgent, but in one small way at least I've saved the word from a bit of carbon emissions, even if they're not proven to be the cause of global warming.

Who knows? What's the alternative? Well, in my case, it's cycling. Every day for work I get up at 6:45am, walk around my house dazed and confused for 45 minutes, leave the house by bike and dash to the train station by bike. I jump on board the 0800 Central Trains CityLink service to: Cardiff Central and get off a few stops later, all for GBP3.80 a day. It's not a bad way to get to work, but sometimes it seems like hard work.

I don't reckon having a car would be significantly cheaper, if cheaper at all. It's more fun cycling, and it's better for you. Also, cyclists are scientifically proven to be better looking, better in bed, and smell better. It's true.

Damn right, it makes me a hippy, sweaty, tired and achy, probably less employable, a target for passport theft as that's my only form of ID, constantly worried about my bike and a source of much amusement amongst my petrol-guzzling friends and colleagues, but fuck it. I am awesome, because I'm a cyclist.

I don't even get honked at anymore. That may make me far leeter than anyone else.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Zero Hours Contracts - A Bet With The Devil

Some friends of mine (hard to believe, right) are having a bit of difficulty with an employer. Basically, they work in the service sector and they're stuck on a crappy zero-hours contract.

ZHCs look like they're excellent for employers, but thoroughly crap for employees. For the employer, they can call people in at the drop of a hat, "responding to demand" (lame) and minimising their contractual risk. It means you don't have to give people hours, basically, when there's no demand to do so.

This is a bit of an anti-capitalist whine, but seriously, this is pretty crap. If you're on a ZHC, you've basically got no job security. You don't know from one week to the next if you're going to have any hours. This means you don't know from one week to the next whether you'll be able to pay your bills. I've never been in the unfortunate position of having to rely on such contracts, but I imagine this is pretty stressful.

It's fine for people in some walks of life, such as students earning a bit of extra spending money, teenagers living at home still or any number of other lifestyles, but for serious grown-ups, it's a kick in the teeth to continually offer ZHCs as a viable contract of employment. The government should sit up and take notice, because this practice is on the rise - I'm sure a lot of those recently entering part-time employment are massively underemployed, especially in the cohort of young workers.

There are other, more sinister effects. Let's say you have a bit of a problem with your employer - harassment, health and safety, working conditions, or just asking for extra hours - and your employer takes a dislike to this. They can reduce your hours or completely cut them, completely within the remit of your contract. Or say you wanted to join a trade union and fight your corner. Again, your employer can turn around and say, "hey, sorry pal, I don't need you to come in this week." It's a redundancy by any other name, and it's creepy.

So not only can the employer lay you off in lull periods, but they're also going to have your undying support for changes in working conditions, poor health and safety practices, unfair harassment or dismissal charges and generally having a crap job, because if you don't tow the company line, you're not going to get any hours.

There's also some other minor issues, such as some employers demanding that their employees are "faithful" - i.e. they can only retain one ZHC at any one time. This sucks - you can't even have a bet with three devils. Oh sure, there're promises of "layover time payment" if you're kicking around waiting for a shift to start, but I don't see any reason for these ever existing in the more-or-less predictable world of consumer retail.

Some politicians in the UK have been discussing how such contracts can be abolished, but this is likely to be a long-term process. The outcome might very well be worse - very low hours contracts, for example, or general lay-offs as companies consolidate their list of employees. Our best hope is that a general code of conduct, with some kind of viable monitoring scheme, can be implemented by retailers.

I'd like to know in the mean-time whether there's anything I can recommend to my friends. Does anyone have any experience in fighting ZHCs? Is joining a trade union a viable solution? Or must they just grit their teeth, hunker down and weather the storm of craposity?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Things I Have Learnt Today

Over the last few years it has come to my attention that, shock horror, discussion based on wondering and pondering is gradually disappearing.

This applies because when a conversation reaches a point where people aren't sure about something, the response is simply searched for on Google (other search engines are available shit). No wonder, no pondering, job done. Sometimes I long for the time when just not knowing was okay.

(Or when you wake up, sweating, in the middle of the night and shout "SPLINTER!" as you've just remembered the name of the rat from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the conversation you had twelve hours ago. Thanks, brain.)

Whilst perhaps this has increased people's general knowledge, it's another example that our generation, like no generation before, is not good at learning things but is good at learning where to find things. Discuss.

Of course I should point out that I'm guilty as sin of this whole thing too. Today, for example, instead of making phone calls (or just being content with not knowing) I searched for several answers. See the following list.
  • The band Lostprophets (apparently formerly known as Lozt Prophetz, which is just stupid) had six permanent members at the time of their disbandment. This means they weren't a not-four-prophet organisation.
  • It's not possible to have two people, using the same username and password, connecting to a single Windows RDP connection without one kicking the other off.
  • It's relatively straightforward to write a simplistic folder monitor in DOS batch. It's really hard, apparently, to make a freeware GUI one that works the way I wanted it to.
  • The DOS equivalent to the Unix command "pwd" is "echo %cd%". Dumb.
  • Google Chrome Nanny is your friend (no really. Now I should add "" to my black-listed URLs).
And that's just this morning. Oh joy.

Update from this afternoon:

  • In Outlook 2010 (see yesterday's rant about how rubbish it is) you have to open a message to resend it as new. Then its under the "Move" panel under "Actions > Resend". Who knew (me, now).
  • Also in Outlook 2010 (I'm learning gradually), there's no forgotten attachment check by default. That's bloody rubbish! How often do I forget to add attachments, goodness me, it must be daily. What mortals don't forget to add attachments?
Wow, what an interesting set of posts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Possible Alternative Names for Windows 8

An Open Letter to Microsoft

Without meaning to deliberately follow in the footsteps of Ned Ludd, I wish to register my displeasure with the Grand Arbiter for their recent and latest release of a so-called "operating system". Of course, it's Windows 8, derided, despised, discarded.

Come on, Micro$oft (couldn't resist). This is just a waste of a set of version numbers. It's not big, it's not clever and it certainly isn't funny. Unlike IT, which is certain big, clever and funny.

Between the inception of Windows 3.1 and Windows XP, there was a gradual ramp-up of technology and stylistic elements, leading ultimately to Windows XP, which I have used for many, many years. It is an excellent balance of normal use and power user use. It was, and please excuse me Linus, bloody excellent. But following this, every version has dumbed down. Gone are many of the power user elements. Gone are many of the wonderful tools which I actually flippin' needed to do my job. Gone is a workable and basic version of Paint, for frack's sake. All I feel I'm left with are shiny, colourful and ultimately hollow shapes, and it's really not amusing.

I understand the need to modernise, the need to move on from Windows 98SE and even from Windows XP (I know, radical move). But in moving to a silly app-based system, you've alienated me completely. I can't take these massive icons and glitzy animations seriously.

In emulating your arch-rivals, the sinful Apple Corporation, you've really achieved nothing. Look at this stuff. It's the ultimate victory of style over substance. You've basically spent a good deal of time polishing a turd, if that turd was Windows 7.

Alright, Windows 7 isn't thoroughly awful. Why, I hear you ask, do I think this? Touchscreen technology. Macroshit, whilst I understand that you think touchscreens and HUDs are the future, they're really not. Look around my office, and the offices of my peers, and the offices of pretty much everyone on the planet. Hey, look at most home users whilst you're at it. Who the frack is using touchscreens on their laptops and desktop computers? Pretty much nobody on the planet, that's who.

If your target market is preppy tweenagers looking at BaceFook and BlueTube all day, or even style-over-substance loving media moghuls in their ivory towers, then by all means pursue your target market, and I wish you every luck. But for pity's sake, please don't inflict awful operating systems on the rest of us. I'm not going to ask you to carry on support for old operating systems (although that would be nice). Maybe I'm not even going to ask you to release additional patches which make Windows 8 look more like, well, a useable operation system. Just please, make sure your next operating system isn't quite so crap. And give me Paint back.

(If you could also find it in your heart to release open-source versions of operating systems you've classified as "obsolete", most people in the galaxy would probably also be happy. Just a thought, and I don't suppose you will.)

In the mean-time, please enjoy the following list of alternative names for Windows 8.1 (and Office 2013, and Outlook 2010, and Microsoft, actually).

Yours Shamefully,

A Dissatisfied Customer

Possible Alternative Names

Windows 8.1

  • Windows Hate
  • Windows Wait
  • Windows Late
  • Windows Crate
  • Windows Error Bait
  • Windows Crash Spate
  • Windoze 8
  • Windows Bad Date
  • Windows Deteriorate
  • Windows Fate
  • Windows Reprobate
  • Windows Ain't No Fun
  • Windows Infuriate
  • Windows Please Wait
  • Windows Beta
  • Windows Frustrate

Office 2013

  • Vexcel 2013
  • Exhell 2013
  • Urgh'd 2013
  • Blurgh'd 2013

Outlook 2010

  • Outf**k 2010

Microsoft Corporation

  • Micro$oft
  • Micros**t
  • Macros**t
Of course, dear reader, should you wish to add your own, please do so. I'd be most happy to add virtually anything to the above list.