Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Further Adventures of Silly Shenanigans

Before I formally began my Steampunk campaign, I thought it prudent to brainstorm some minor adventuring ideas. Again bouncing off of the setting created by Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald," I wrote them in the style of Victorian newspaper ads, using similar language to 19th century adverts and announcements. I really can't imagine my literature teachers expecting such knowledge to be used in this way...

By the way, I thoroughly recommend the short story, "I Cthulu" for more hilarious takes on Lovecraft's universe.


Guards for hire needed at local science exhibition. Volunteers to be interviewed at the Artemis room in Sonjara Hall.

The Missus won't stop shrieking until her annoying pet furball has been recovered or replaced. All proprietors should inquire at 4623 Sheffield Lane.

Restaurant needs sturdy explorers to gather rare ingredients. 714 Pariotti Way, Ask for Penuchi.

Missing brooch, big reward! -Miss Hafter of 648 Junichi Place

Package delivery services needed. Inquire at the Lackadaisy Club on Irelis Street.


Crazy professor of Ilostan technology vaporized by own super weapon. Auction of property pending.

For sale: machine puppet with glowing pendant. Send inqueries to Dr. Jay Pettatio of Sozen Street.

Fireworks display at the Sabrosen residence canceled until giant blob vacates the premises.

The Musuem of Antiquity will be closed temporarily due to possible cursing by recent exhibit artifacts. Any prior visitors experiencing strange symptoms of fast aging, duck feet, or out of the ordinary homicidal urges are asked to report to the nearest Authority stations for de-hexing procedures.

Prospects look good for gold and mineral recovery in the Sierra Mountains of the Northern California Republic. Captain Jonathan R. Davis is expected to continue escorting groups of miners for the near future.

Need players for Kung fu Ping-pong. Enlist today at San Wufong Lodge!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Steampunk is Cool

I originally got the idea for a steampunk world after reading Neil Gaiman's short story, "A Study in Emerald." Being the massive nerd I am, I thought it would be awesome for my group of roleplaying buddies to romp around a 19th century fantasy setting not unlike the incredible webcomic Girl Genius, but with much, much more in the way of aliens and mutants running around. To any readers unfamiliar with the stylings of steampunk, it is essentially reimagining the Victorian/Edwardian eras of the 19th-early 20th centuries as if they had gained access to the knowledge and technologies of the future, but still only use the resources available in that timeframe, such as steam engines, or diesel machines. Consider the films Wild Wild West, or Back to the Future 3, the comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the film was shit), the aforementioned Girl Genius, any books by Jules Verne, etcetera if a visual is required.

So without further ado, here is the beginning text I wrote up to introduce my friends to the world of Dark Wall:

    The arrival of the Old Ones changed everything. It was their rather destructive entrance that started the whole mess of anachronisms and magic floating about with hardly a how-de-do. Mucking about with the dimensional framework that upholds the universe together tends to shake things up in a rather ugly fashion, so to speak. Nowadays its not uncommon to find horses stabled next door to the local mad genius inventor. Of course, having a decent mechanic is integral to anyone's survival in this strange hodgepodge world. The royals are certainly no help in maintaining order, governments are just as likely to be run by outlaws as proper authorities! Pardon me, this newfangled lighter is a bit tricky...~click,click~ *puff* Where was I? Ah yes, and those crazy "magicians," bah! Just talking to one is enough to send a logically-minded sort into fits! But enough of history, what I really wanted to talk about was this Calassius bloke, just hear this piece of work:
    "Sometimes destiny just calls a man into the service of the greater good. No man can escape his fate. A mandate from the masses, if ignored, will become a deafening cry just before it vanishes. But when the dust of aeons clears, destiny will find him out; his protestations having served ultimately as a minute and frivolous delay, and nothing more. Better to be swept up in the surge than drowned in the undertow of that vast ocean that is time."
    Restorationist malarchy, that's what it is!

~Kallen Romano, denizen of Dark Wall


The city of Dark Wall did not always bear that name. However, once the 100-story metal facade appeared out of the mists one day, it was hard to think of a better moniker. The giant cockroach-looking clerk studiously checks every page of the passport application, adjusting its tiny spectacles now and again. It seemed impossible to determine if the bug was male or female, and it seemed too forward to ask. "All seems in order," it finally clicked out. Stamping the city passport, it collects the sheaf of papers and sticks it in a mail slot behind its head. With another appendage, it slides the packet of passport documents under the window slot. "Recent regulations passed down by the royal houses require all visitors to carry their passport with them at all times. You may renew the documents at any facility bearing the mark of the House of Dross. Included in your packet today is a map of the main city and some brochures of popular locations. Enjoy your stay. NEXT!"

When space-time was ripped asunder in 1873 by the arrival of the Old Ones, reality in some places did a back flip and screamed bloody murder. Not only did many new and strange beings suddenly flood the streets of once familiar cities, pools of magical energy warped the world into something unrecognizable. With the surge in magic came a stronger ability to use it, at least in certain individuals. Some bloodlines even noticed a knack for a certain type of magic. Also, a great deal of once-secretive magical beings decided the need to hide from the Age of Enlightenment was now unnecessary. The Old Ones took over many of the major powers, declaring themselves the true Royals of those lands, and basically usurped the governments. Although if officials proved useful, they were not always offed in a publicly bloody fashion. One of the biggest changes was the creation of city-states. Especially in Europe and the Americas, some of the larger cities opted to become their own entities in order to maintain some illusion of independence. Therefore there are such areas as the United Emirates of Southern California, the empire of New York City, Northern Madrid, and the duchy of Paris. Other cities were altered by the space-time rip. For example, the Vatican is now a floating island that wanders about the Mediterranean. Leaps in technology and medicine were one benefit of the return of the Old Ones, steam power being the preferred method of invention. While there are flying contraptions and horseless carriages, the machines are not yet manufactured for public use, and remain an expensive hobby for the rich with ennui. Outlaws tend to rule the vast empty spaces of the world, including the American Midwest, a significant chunk of Russia, Mongolia, and China, the Australian Outback, most of Africa, and some portions of Brazil. Crime Syndicates can be found throughout most of the industrialized parts of the world, and are just as likely to carry literal boomsticks as firearms. There are a number of political factions of various opinion on whether it was a good thing the Old Ones arrived. One of the most prominently known secretive groups is the Restorationists, who believe that by killing off the Royals, they will eventually take a hint and return to their old dimension. While it seems they will unlikely succeed, not even the Old Ones can completely eradicate them. Expect the usual apocalyptic crazies as well as opium addicts staggering around from time to time. Feel free to worship any deity from fantasy, from real-world mythology, or your character may also be a firm believer in the Age of Reason. Running around screaming like a maniac is also acceptable. Here is a nice example of a typical city. Merely add whatever cultural icons would be present in that country.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bubble Baths Reduce the Frequency of Mass Murder

Some of my friends have heard excessively by now that I took a five-week culinary arts course over the summer, and also of my unfortunate pairing with a horrible lab partner. The man had to have Asberger's or something, I can't really fathom how he managed to pass the prerequisites for the class.

In order to qualify for the course, one had to complete a Basic Skills class, which taught such things as how make the classic French cuts, sanitation, the best cooking or prep tool for the job, and other essential information one should know before working in a professional kitchen. The Basic Skills class also required basic understanding of English and Math for obvious reasons. It should also be noted that classic Western cuisine, what many consider fine dining or gourmet, is founded on French techniques, because they figured out how to be awesome at it first and make money while doing so.

Bearing all this information in mind, I was constantly amazed that this guy knew so little about what we were doing and why we were doing it, ESPECIALLY AFTER BEING SHOWN WHAT TO DO. Now I myself am the sort of person who likes knowing "what" and "why," if  my DVR backlogs of Mythbusters and Good Eats are any sort of glaring indication, but if a person in the culinary arts doesn't understand the concept of 'reduce' or 'whip egg whites to a foam' when instructed to do so, I think they need to instead apply for a truck driver's certificate. For example:

I have been doodling more such little comics about my frustrating experiences, and am strongly considering posting them here, where the likelihood of me caring about someone being insulted is relatively low. I will mention too, how if it were not for the jacuzzi tub bubble baths I took on a weekly basis, I think I may have resorted to mass murder at my culinary arts school.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I am entirely certain that the dip in my bed is the primary cause of my continued back pain, as I distinctly remember not waking up feeling like a pretzel while I was down in California.

In other news, I have been unsuccessfully attempting to clear off my art table so I can work on things when the creative muse whacks me over the head. For now I'm researching things for my RPG campaign. Being in the Palm Desert area helped inspire me for when my PCs wander around a reimagining of the Wild West. This world has lots of things that will probably be more at home in Egypt or Africa. So if anyone complains, I'll remind them that not only is it a fantasy world, but it's one affected by the tearing of reality, so of course things will be random.

Actually, that'd be a great subject for the next series of posts. The internet needs some more crazy hahaha.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

California Vacation, Day 4

The Date Tree hotel in Indio, CA has to be one of the best hotels ever. Seriously, there were so many little touches that showed they actually cared about their guests. The beds were so comfortable! I enjoyed not having to pop my neck after waking up. I especially liked the 24-hour pool and hot tub setup, which I repeatedly took advantage of. Also, the continental breakfast is very lavish, you can make your own waffles!

Now, on this day of the trip, my friend insisted on taking me to a local date garden, the Shields date farm and grocery store. I never thought I would enjoy dates so much. I snatched a bunch of goodies to enjoy back home, including date sugar, and giggled over the random tourist-y gift products, as can  be seen in these photos:
Example of the birthday popup card

These drink recipes are actually cutting mats
These are some of the date gift boxes available at Shields

My friend bought us some date shakes and we went to the attached theater to watch The Romance and Sex Life of the Date. This movie chronicles the history of the farm as well as how difficult it is to cultivate dates, which is even more impressive when one takes into account that 95% of the date crop in the US comes from the Palm Springs area.By the way, a date shake tastes a lot like a vanilla ice cream shake, but with random textural changes as one sips up a chunk of fruit. I liked that it was low fat and had nice fiber content, definitely something I'll try to reproduce. Outside, I caught a view of some of the date palms, which are actually all over the desert valley:
There are bags on these trees in order to protect the ripening dates from spoilage by rain.
I will also show here photographic evidence of my friend's unfortunate car that was bought for her. It is an old Volvo used in driver's education, and the teacher thought it would be great to have her students autograph her car. I only managed to get good shots of the roof, but rest assured the doors have graffiti as well:

I feel so sorry she has to use this car everyday.

That evening we decided to hit up the downtown art museum until the street fair opened. The exhibits contained local art as well as some masterworks donated by collectors. The museum's policy was that no pictures could be taken of works the museum did not own, which was unfortunately about 85% of the artwork on display. The one we explored first was Native American comics and comic-style artwork. Can someone explain why the comic book Tribal Force only published one issue? It looked so bad-ass, I certainly would have read it had I known of its existence! Other artists created visual commentaries on the racism that cloud views of native cultures, such as the Cleveland Indians mascot. One interesting piece was of a girl with a moonscape backdrop done in anime style, but the museum felt people had to have an example of what anime was, and set two manga books by the picture. My friend and I both felt that Trigun and The Ring were not exactly contextually relevant to a piece that had more in common with Sailor Moon, but such is the silliness of some so-called art authorities. There were also more traditional native artworks, such as rugs, baskets, pottery, and sculptures. It was a great contrast and blending of ancient and modern cultural voices.

Also of interest were glass media displays, one such piece looked like someone thrust a thin pane of glass into a tree, but on closer inspection, the glass is a thick chunk like a rock! The modern art wing was more often puzzling than not. One artist made a very lifelike replica of a nude woman. It creeped me out, as I couldn't stop imagining the thing coming to life and trying to rip my face off. My close friends ought to be well aware of my pediophobia, which I had developed long before Coraline was released. Another artist used mirrors to create the illusion of a deep shaft of bricks, which I couldn't stare at for long without getting dizzy. The contemporary art displays had a few pieces I could take pictures of, such as these:
This sculpture is apparently cast bronze of driftwood pieces
I have a thing for shiny objects with chaotic colors
That is me standing next to the statue!
Time flew by more quickly than expected, and night had fallen when we were thrown out so the museum could close. Anyone who lives in Palm Springs during the summer has my deepest sympathies, I could not live in a place where dark brings no solace from the heat. It was a great fair though, I bought a nice set of handmade jewelry to add to my collection. I found a cute set of feather earrings, a woven leather bracelet with a pretty blue stone, and three natural stone chain bracelets. See them in the photo along with the straw fedora I found at Ross:

My friend bought some handmade soaps, which I also might have indulged in were it not for the fact that 1) I dislike trying to preserve bar soap long enough to get any use out of it, and 2) I have too many soap products as it is. I was quite amazed at my restraint, although if the stuff were usable as candles I may not have had as much willpower. Another vendor had some incredibly crafted dragon and mythological creatures ornaments woven from hemp:

We ate from a food truck that had quite a charming theme going, Drunken Gourmet, which, as you may have guessed, served products that involved an alchoholic ingredient. Here is that evening's menu:

We ordered sliders so as to try as many varieties of the meat filling as possible, and I must say, those foods would also be great to serve out of a food truck. They also had carrot and banana split cupcakes, but we were too stuffed to try them. I gave the owners the idea of caramel apple cupcakes as we left, because I'm nice like that.

By that time it was 10 pm and the street fair was closing up, so we headed back to the car. My friend felt the need to stop at a cafe for coffee, and I indulged her as she agreed to pay for drinks. This place had the ability to make any of their teas into lattes, so I tried one of the odder flavors. I ordered a Japanese Cherry latte, which was so amazing I will have to scour the internet for this freaking fantastic tea. Now if I am able to find good deals, my food truck will have a nice selection of unique products.

Also, I am so happy I found Skechers Shape Ups at Ross, those things ensured my legs and feet were not at all sore after all that walking!

Friday, August 12, 2011

California Vacation, Day 3

The third day was meant to begin early, as my friends wanted to reach Magic Mountain before the crowds became too heavy. I was dubious about my ability to ride any roller coasters, considering I had been diagnosed with Meniere's syndrome  about three years ago. I was fully aware that sudden changes in elevation as well as significant inertial forces would mess me up big time. Still, I hoped to hold out for a bit while my friends had fun on some rides.

Unfortunately, they are the sort of people who want their friends to have a good time too, or the outing is pointless. They fully intended to get me to ride a coaster, even going so far as to suggest taking the OTC drug Dramamine in order to combat my tendency to get dizzy from certain motions. I put off going directly to any roller coaster, instead exploring the gift shops in the DC Universe area of the park while my friends rode the new Green Lantern ride and the Batman one. Everything was gloriously tacky, as tourist gift shops usually are. I was almost tempted to buy a Batman themed t-shirt, but alas, nothing was available in my size.

Unable to avoid the inevitable, my friends dragged me in line for The Riddler's Revenge, thinking the smoothness of the ride would not affect me as much. I am much too nice for my own good, I realized too late. See some of these pictures of the ride and wonder at my brief moment of insanity.

The Coaster
More of the Coaster

Needless to say, I was not happy after this ride. I think I was hyperventilating and in a full out panic attack from the onset of vertigo. Anyone who has not experienced the sensation of vertigo is incredibly lucky, it is such a horrible thing. The world starts to spin, and it's like I'm free-falling through the supercycle of an industrial dryer. The lack of control freaks me out, and if I don't find an immediate means of grounding myself, the resulting nausea and dizziness makes me vomit and/or pass out. Valium usually helps calm me down enough to remain conscious and breathing, but I had stupidly left the prescription bottle in my bag back in my friend's car. After I was able to walk, we headed for the first aid station, thinking maybe they had nausea medicine. They didn't, the pricks. So since I was unable to ride anything without severe damage to myself, my friends didn't see any point in staying at the park. I felt really guilty about cutting the trip short, but they had season passes they could still use at a later date. Besides, I did repeatedly warn them about my condition and the potential consequences of riding roller coasters. We ate at a nearby Wendy's before heading out. I felt it necessary to comment that the value menu being $2 just because of the establishment's proximity to the Six Flags park was both atrocious and admirable business sense.

The evening dinner my friend made was amazing, and more than made up for the disaster at the theme park. It was a chickpea patty with caramelized onions and a smoky, melty cheese sauce on toasted whole grain bread, all completely vegan! I am going to replicate it as best I can once I get back to my kitchen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

California Vacation, Day 2

On the second day of my trip, I had finally gone to sleep around 1am, after attending the Phish concert with my friends. My friends went out for munchies to that all-American repository of cheap cuisine, Denny's. They apparently returned at 4 am, but I didn't notice.

I woke up around 8 am, and was showered, dressed and ready for the day. However, seeing as my friends were lost in slumber, I figured to go have my own munchies run. The new line of "regional cuisines" Denny's is attempting to sell is rather hilarious. I fail to see how the Northwest is best known for its iced coffee, but I hate coffee and have never been to Seattle. I'd wanted to try the Hawaiian stuff, as I've always been sucked in by tropical fruit flavors, but in trying to watch my waistline, I ordered a simple vegetable omelette, no cheese, with dry wheat toast and fruit instead of hash brown potatoes. By the way, don't ever invite me to a restaurant unless you want an earful about the nutritional quality or lack thereof in your favorite dishes.

Upon returning, my friends were still fast asleep, so I opted to check my emails and interneted for awhile. Lunchtime rolled around when they finally showed signs of life. Realizing that hiking and amusement park visits would be more enjoyable with a sensible pair of shoes, my friend and I embarked on a quest for a decent outlet store. Buying shoes, socks, and a hat at a local Ross reminded me of the time my family went to a Naval graduation in South Carolina when my mom decided she NEEDED a new hat, and ended up purchasing one at Walmart.

Thus equipped with new threads, my friend and I used her smart phone to find someplace to eat. A Japanese style buffet sounded interesting, but we ended up spending 20 minutes trying to find the location, seeing as either us or the phone was confused at some point. Finally realizing the restaurant must have closed, we hiked around for awhile and ended up eating at a Vietnamese noodle shop. Right next door was a Boba tea cafe, so I think the excursion turned out well. The machine used to mix the drinks gave me a brilliant idea for a food truck. If I can write out a good enough business plan, my hometown may see mobile Boba tea at local events! I'd even concoct baked goods to sell, but I'm not sure about coffee or other drinks.

Upon returning to the hotel, my friend and I tried to think of something to do. It was LA after all, but we were both broke and not much for the club scene. After bickering for an hour, I decided I'd take advantage of the hotel hot tub. My friend came down to hang out on the side, as she failed to bring a swimsuit. Chatting for awhile about recipes, and nothing in particular, we ended up ordering pizza and watching Rambo on tv. I quite enjoyed the relaxation of the day, as that was the whole reason I was on vacation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

California Vacation, Day 1

My first Phish concert was in Los Angeles, which I attended with my best friend and her significant other. "Interesting" does not seem a sufficient descriptor for my experience of this musical group and corresponding fanbase. First of all, since I'm not entirely certain this blog will be visited by persons knowledgeable of this band, I will attempt to provide some background information. However, keep in mind that until the Phish concert in LA, I had never heard their music. Look them up on Youtube sometime to get a taste of the live shows.

Phish's sound reminds me of the rhythm and blues rock of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Eric Clapton, only much more nonsensical. For example, the lyrics of one the songs played goes: Steal away before the dawn/and bring us back good news/but if you've tread in primal soup/please wipe it from your shoes. The fans consist of extremely nice people, the predominant personality type being of the outgoing hippie variety. I dare not list all the substances I suspect these people partake in, partly for legal reasons, and partly because I'd rather not incur anyone's wrath for tattling. The funny part about all this is that I'm straight-edge, meaning I don't like drinking much alcohol or taking any drugs. But wait, some people may think, that's not exactly the sort of crowd this person would like spending time with! Think of all the horrible temptations there are! But see, I still manage to have fun at such parties, as I get a huge kick out of watching people act ridiculous, especially when they add questionable influences to the mix. Just because I don't dabble doesn't mean I mind that other people do.

Anyways, I had arrived at the airport in LA that morning at about 10 am. I had been forced to wake up at 3 am to make my flight. Even with short naps here and there, I was already fairly exhausted. My friends had staked out a parking spot, having experienced the chaos of Phish shows before. This setup meant I had to recruit a shuttle to make it to the venue. $26 later, I managed to arrive at the Hollywood Bowl. This place is a huge outdoor amphitheater, able to hold a few thousand people easily. The seating consisted of wooden picnic benches, and there was squishy plastic flooring, which I thought rather odd for a place attempting to be "nature-y." My friends kept regaling me with tales of the massive tail-gating antics the crowds hold before and after the concert. I had not planned on actually attending, but as the concert was that evening, I had plenty of time for a nap before the show. Luckily, there was someone who had an extra ticket willing to sell at the face value of $60, meaning I would have to save my 1337 stealthy ninja moves for another day. Some hours later, I was more awake, and all of us were rather bored as the lot was not filling up very quickly. Even though people were arriving, my friends were baffled by the lack of vendors and general chaos. Things didn't really pick up until 5 pm, meaning they could have easily picked me up at the airport. Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes.

Walking around the parking lots of the venue, we finally discovered some revelry across the street. This place is also where I started snapping photos, as the costumes and accessories some of the people wore were just amazing to behold, like something randomly shiny found on a thrift store shelf. Being something of a magpie, I was of course attracted to all the colors and strangeness of it all. I like to think of the people in these photos as the sparkling Phishies, haha.

Also these monkeys amused me greatly

Needing drinks for the concert, my friend and I started looking for a convenience store. Inconveniently, the nearest store was about a half mile down the road, and all I'd pack to walk in were flip flops. Did I mention it was 86 F outside, with full sunshine? This shop was also where we discovered the local law enforcement was rather relaxed, which surprised my friend somewhat. LAPD notwithstanding, apparently these concerts get a bit wild. We made our purchases and hastily made our way back to the car, so as to pack up all gear for inside the theater. Not knowing how in-depth security would be, my friends tried to prepare me for what would lie ahead.

Once the concert started, I was pleasantly surprised by the light show. It is on par with what the Trans-Siberian Orchestra uses for their concerts (again, use Youtube if this band is unknown to you). Here are some pictures of the stage before the show. I was sitting about halfway up the entire theater, so it is also a good sense of the scale of the place.

I met a pleasant gentleman while wandering around the theater dancing like crazy, and found his sign adorable. I was unaware my flash had died on my camera, so these pictures are somewhat dark.

Unfortunately, a great deal of smoke also started up from people in the audience enjoying themselves, but it gave me a headache. I tried to hold out for the first set, which was not difficult since the audience seemed just as determined to put on a show. I caught a great many people on camera who really can't dance, but the music had that sort of energy to it no one minded. They also threw light sticks, beach balls, inflated balloons, and who knows what else at each other. After the first set, my friends and I felt safe enough to move seats, since everyone else was wandering around anyway. Since there was apparently a surplus of extra tickets to this sold-out show, there was fortunately a large enough selection of empty seats from which to choose an area without a great deal of smoke. About half way through the second set I fell asleep on the benches, which some readers may think is impossible at an outdoor rock concert, but I had plenty of practice after living with two brothers and a hyperactive four-year-old. Also, the fact that this group played "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon that night is a big deal, according to my friends. The drummer, I'm told, rarely sings songs, but he has a good voice nonetheless.

Supposedly there was to be an after-party, which might have been alright with the parked cars as stacked as they were, but the venue's staff had other ideas. It was a Monday night, dang it, and everyone was going home at a reasonable hour! So we were all shuffled out before it was even 11 pm. I fell asleep again on the way to the hotel, while my friends chattered away about past concerts. Upon arriving and laying down for bed, I decided that sleeping like a log is not a bad end to such a day.

So that was my first experience of Phish, which was apparently not at all what a typical concert by this group is supposed to be like. Still, it was a massive amount of fun, and I'd gladly go to another concert, albeit with better planning the next time around.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Not Yet the Beginning

This post only serves to fill space until I can write something more witty and thought-inspiring.