Monday, December 22, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Know your stuff

A new Pew survey was recently released, and the results are very strange. Apparently, a large number of Christians (half in evangelical churches and more than that in other Christian groups) believe that there is more than one way to heaven. The link leads to Dr. Mohler's analysis of the story, and he has some more details as well as links to the Pew data.

Furthermore, in this data is that these people who say that there are other ways to heaven say that the groups of non-Christians who get to go to heaven will do so by their good works.

I realize it can be a little awkward to tell somebody, "I believe that you'll go to hell if you don't change your faith," but this clearly isn't the answer. I can understand this coming from mainline Protestant groups, as they have been trending away from respect for the text for some time now. I can understand this from Catholics, as their theological leadership often seems more inclined to play politics with the other faiths of the world than actually stick to their guns.

But evangelical churches? This is oddball stuff for evangelical Christians. So where is it coming from? A desire to be "polite" in mixed company and not be "offensive?" Poor teaching from the pulpit? A trendiness in taking the title of "evangelical" without actually caring about the beliefs?

It's hard to say. But I will offer this to any of the Christians out there who want to say that there is more than one way to heaven: You can only reach this conclusion by actively ignoring the Biblical text. If you're going to believe as you do, then you either have to offer up a compelling reinterpretation of those verses or explain why those verses can be ignored.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Murine apocalypse

I've started my first rotation in an immunology lab, and I have to say that the transition is raising a few starts out of me. I've only ever worked with microorganisms, bacteria and yeast, so switching over to immunology's preferred model, mice, has been a strange experience.

The last two days I've gone to the vivarium to either observe or to practice handling the animals myself. It was somewhat disturbing to watch samples being taken from the mice, either orbitally (having a capillary stuck behind the eye to produce blood) or by snipping off a piece of the tail. I'd have guessed the latter to be incredibly distressing, but apparently this isn't the case.

I also watched as mice were sacrificed, either by CO2 asphyxiation or by having their necks broken. I'm assuming the latter is within proper protocol, though I'm not certain.

It's the sacrificial part that really felt weird. I've been a pet owner all my life, so it's rather jarring to see small, fuzzy creatures being killed. In my head, I know that it's all for the sake of scientific progress, and I personally have no problems with the use of lab animals, but that doesn't change the lurching feeling it gave me.

I suppose this is very similar to the reaction people have when they see these things at a slaughterhouse, on a hunting trip, or even on a family farm. As a society, we're largely removed from the production of our food, which puts us several steps away from these animals being killed. (I keep trying to come up with a good "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" joke, but it's not happening). We're far removed from the days where almost everybody had to kill an animal for food at least once in their lives, so it's understandable when the practice makes people a bit squeamish.

Still, maybe it's a good thing that I feel uneasy about the whole affair. The conventional wisdom seems to be that most serial killers get their start torturing/killing animals. I should probably worry if I ever start to enjoy doing it. Hm . . . what if many would-be serial killers end up in science careers so they can stick to what they know? What if science turned people into serial killers?

Incidentally, does anyone know a good recipe for fava beans? I was hoping for something that would go well with a nice chianti.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I guess Firefox is for whites

That's the only conclusion I can reach, and it sounds like someone reached the same conclusion.

Some things are just beyond parody. Seriously, do I even need to tell you why this is stupid?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Newsweek on Gay Marriage

I share Dr. Mohler's amazement that a reputable news magazine would put what is clearly an op-ed as its cover story. Priorities, I suppose.

The entire article is about the religious argument in relation to gay marriage, and how, according to author Lisa Miller, the Bible cannot be used to condemn it but rather to support it. There are so many things to unpack in her article I scarcely know where to begin. I could go through every paragraph in the article and find something wrong, but instead I'll try to hit the broader points and categorical mistakes.

First, Miller wants to argue that the Bible's lack of prohibition on polygamy means that it says nothing normative on marriage. We'll skip past that for now because I don't think arguing about Old Testament rules on polygamy really adds to anything here, but there's one small problem for her in this: Even if you accept that the Bible is okay with polygamy, how does this translate to acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage? The polygamous marriages described in the Bible were always heterosexual. It's a logical fallacy to say, "You're wrong, therefor I am right." The two can be mutually exclusive.

Next, Miller wants to argue that Biblical prohibitions and condemnation of homosexuality either isn't what it says it is or is no longer authoritative. She hits this from both the Old Testament (with the Levitical injunction against homosexuality) and the New (with Paul's condemnations against it, too). The OT argument is an old one, which I won't rehash here for sake of space. I will, however, ask a question: If Old Testament rules are no longer in force because they're "outdated," how do you decide which ones to follow and which ones to ignore? I'd say that answering that question is important to understanding Biblical interpretation, and critical to arriving at the question of the morality of homosexuality.

As for Paul, she writes that Paul was merely condemning the excesses of sinful Nero or Caligula, though she doesn't really get into why he would mention the homosexuality if he didn't think it was sinful. There's also the old argument that, in Romans 1, Paul is condemning those heterosexuals who practice homosexuality, not homosexuals just being themselves.

The problem with both of those arguments is that it ignores Paul's talk of homosexuality elsewhere in the New Testament, such as in 1st Corinthians 6. There, Paul describes those who are "unrighteous." He lists two groups, both of them homosexuals. In the greek, there are actually two words for homosexual: The one who "received" and the one who "gave" (and I'll leave the description at that). Paul condemns both, which ought to drive home the idea that it's the act itself that is singled out as sinful, not any particular mindset going into it.

Third, Miller argues that Jesus rarely talked about marriage and never about homosexuality, so clearly it's not an issue. This is, once again, an old fallacy: Jesus didn't discuss X, so X is not sinful. We don't know all the details about Jesus's ministry, so it's possible that he did discuss the issue at some point and it's lost to history as to what he said. However, considering his support of the law and for the unity of man and woman in marriage, I doubt he would have had much positive to say about homosexuality. Even that aside, Jesus came to Earth with a rather specific purpose and a rather specific message. His goal was not to reinforce Jewish law or to tell everybody how to live, how great brotherly love is, and how it'd be really nice if people would start getting serious about showing up at the Temple again. Jesus came to prepare the world for what was a major change in God's relationship with mankind; Jesus came to announce the solvation of the old covenant and the coming of the new covenant, to call people to redemption and to prepare them to understand just what his life and death (and life again) would mean.

I'll even toss in here her mentioning of Paul's singlehood, with his wish that everyone else could "be as [he] is." The thing is, Paul offers this up not as a "command from the Lord" but as his own personal advice. Paul's bachelor status meant that he was able to spend his life travelling the world and spreading the gospel. Paul only wishes that everyone else could take part in such a lifestyle! But Paul also acknowledges that everyone has different callings from God on their life, and that some people will inevitably marry. Again, I don't see how this equates soft support for gay marriage, as Miller does.

Finally, I just want to address the overall problem Miller seems to have in this. She makes a lot of statements that reveal the overall problem:
  • "Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history."
  • "But . . . if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God . . ."
  • "A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours."
At the root of this is the fundamental question of what the Bible is, who wrote it, and from where its authority comes. If you believe that the voice of God cannot be distinguished from the voice of men in the text, then how do you distinguish which parts of the text are still authoritative? If it's all just a matter of what "speaks to us" at this stage of history, then does one decide what is from God and what isn't?

No, this is an old argument, wherein Biblical passages are considered "out of date" and simply tossed aside. The problem is that this is theology by popularity; if enough people get together and decide they don't like verse X anymore, then let's just ignore it! God is speaking to us and telling us that we need to "move past" such outmoded thinking.

Miller goes on and on about the Bible's passages on love, inclusion, and acceptance, but she ignores a critical element of it. True Biblical love does not ignore sin. It does not accept it, it does not explain it away, it does not excuse it, it does not look past it. True Biblical love confronts sin directly, as Jesus died as the payment for our atonement. As such, everyone is eligible for inclusion in the new covenant, but there's a catch: Participation in the covenant means acknowledging your sin and repenting of it (that is, leaving it behind). The Christianity Miller rails against is very inclusive; she just wants them to change their definition of sin.

Corruption Charges in Illinois

Would every Illinois governor who isn't currently in or going to prison please step forward?

Whoa, not so fast Rod Blagojevich.

While Gov. Blagojevich (or as I like to call him, G-Rod) has been under investigation for corruption for a number of years now, this incident is completely unrelated to any of the previous investigations.

Apparently, this complain stems from Blagojevich attempting to sell the vacant senate seat left by President-Elect Obama. This being Illinois (and by that, I mean Chicago), I am in no way surprised. What surprises me is that he was caught so blatantly. I can only guess that some of the other players in the Chicago power structure decided that Blagojevich had become a liability and it was time to let him go.

I guess it's too much to hope that this might somehow get linked back to Obama, although at this point all that would mean is that we'd get President Biden instead. *Shudder*. Either way, it's about time something finally stuck to this guy. Blagojevich has played fast and loose with the rules ever since he came into office in 2000, so I'm surprised it took this long for things to finally turn out this way. Still, this can only mean more trouble for a state that is not exactly in good political and financial health to begin with. I'm curious where all of this will lead.

Of course, I'd love to pretend that I'm going to cover this in great detail, but who am I kidding? I am and always will be a "highlights" kind of blogger when it comes to big news stories. If you want good coverage and analysis, I might suggest an Illinois newspaper (one that isn't declaring bankruptcy, I might add), and of course the always impressive Capitol Fax blog.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Nobody understands irony

For the class I was taking this past semester, when we answered our exam questions we were given a limited amount of space and told that any answer exceeding that space would not be graded.

If you're the professor making the exam key, and you get to type your answer, don't you think it might be a good idea to be sure that the answer fits within that alloted space?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

You can pick your Research Advisor, and you can pick your nose . . .

Stop me if you've heard this one.

My semester's pretty much over, with all the in-class exams finished and just a take-home yet to go. I'm told by the older students that it's a cake walk, so I'm not stressing over that. No, what I'm stressing over is the end of the semester itself. Friday is the last day of classes and we're supposed to start our first rotation the following Monday. This wouldn't be so stressful if I'd get off my tuckus and find a lab.

I guess the problem is that I don't know exactly what it is I want to do with myself. Not that your PhD research has to be the defining moment of your career, but we've heard from a lot of professors who wanted to take students this year and none of them exactly set me on fire. I have other options than the people we've heard from, of course, but that means making a slightly less-informed decision, and I really hate doing that.

I guess I should be thankful we get to do three rotations (four if we're feeling indecisive). It's possible I'd still be at Northwestern if I'd had that option. Still, three rotations doesn't feel like it makes it any easier when the list of people I might want to rotate with is three or four times that long.

The only thing I would think to change about this system, at least up to now, would be to change how we hear from professors about their research. At the moment, it seems like professors who have funding and want students volunteer to take part in the research presentations to first year students. That's all well and good, but apparently the entire section of our department devoted to viral research got the email about speaking and went, "Meh." Oh, they have funding and openings, but apparently they think that ought to be a big secret.

Perhaps there ought to be conditions for making their presentations mandatory. I can't say what that might look like, but 90% of our presentations were from bacteriologists, and that just didn't do anything for me.

Hm, this post is over and I didn't say anything funny or controversial. Wait, I got it: Why didn't they do that?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Abandon all hope ye who enter here

My dating pool has dried up ever since I moved out to Baltimore, so just for kicks and grins I signed up for one of those dating sites (that isn't eHarmony, anyhow). Just the free version, mind you. I've no intention of paying good money to get rejected by women, as I'm already getting enough of that for free.

In any event, I can understand why people are often as skeptical as they are about online dating websites. I imagine that some are better than others, but there seems to be common issues resonating on all of these sites, and it's more of a problem with the people than the sites themselves. Although let's face it, most of these sites do have the problem of being like a party where you see a bunch of people standing around and every time you try to talk to someone the host walks up and demands $5 before he'll let you chit-chat.

In any case, let's talk about the things that make these women's profiles so egregious, as I don't have anything else interesting to blog about lately:

This is clearly the biggest issue for your profile, as it's the first thing a guy is going to notice about you, yet also seems to be the one thing that people spend no time or effort on. Common issues include:
  • The eye gouger- Seriously, you couldn't find a better looking picture than that? You have one eye half shut and your tongue is hanging out.
  • The lonely shot - You wanted to get a quick headshot in, so you held your digital camera at the arm's length and took a photo. Since you're paying $20/month for this, you couldn't spend a little time to change out of your pajamas and get a friend to snap the photo for you?
  • The ex - Why in God's name would you post a picture of your ex-boyfriend licking your face to a dating website?
  • The woman of mystery - Okay, so you like the picture of you and all your friends at the beach. Since we can't tell which of the 13 women in the picture is you, we're just going to assume you're the one who looks like she got a once-over from Hannibal Lecter and move on.
  • The time warp - We can all tell when you're using a picture older than the children you talk about in your profile. You might want to give us some credit and post something that was taken since the advent of digital cameras.
The Profile
You get a bunch of multiple choice radio boxes and a 500 word essay to sell yourself to me. Why is it that some people can't seem to get this one right?

First, there's weight. Look, if you're not going to post a picture of yourself, it's just polite to fill this portion out. Unfortunately, the websites seem to be in the habit of letting people live in Imagination Land (TM), because most have four categories: Slim, Athletic, Average, and "A few extra pounds." From what I've seen, people who pick that last one are making quite the understatement.

Next come your activities. I don't know a lot of people who will say that they hate being outdoors, and I think all of us can find enjoyment if we're at a picnic and get roped into a game of volleyball or horseshoes. But don't tell me that you regularly enjoy kayaking, hiking, swimming, tennis, basketball, badminton, water polo, bowling, competitive dance, base jumping, and speed skating. You can't possibly partake in all of those often enough to call any of them a hobby, and you certainly don't look athletic enough for that to be believable anyhow.

The biggest hurdle is the free-form profile. Spelling is the most obvious issue; again, you're spending a lot of money on this to try to find a mate. Don't you think you could have spent 10 seconds running this thing through spell-check? The biggest thing I notice is the abundance of nonsense phrases. These can include, but are not limited to:
  • "Looking for someone who doesn't play games" - Like what, checkers? What does that even mean?
  • "I love to laugh/have a good time" - Phew. For a second, I thought you might have been a kill joy.
  • "Friends are very important to me" - Me, I'm just going to hang out in the Batcave all day and be broody and emo. Friends . . . pfft.
  • "I'm looking for . . ." - This list could go on for a long time. Basically, it involves any number of qualities that only the socially retarded will be lacking. Then again, this being the internet, perhaps those things can't go without saying. You know, things like "someone who's down to earth," "someone who is a good listener," "someone who will appreciate me," "someone who is confident in himself." They all seem like a good thing to say, but they mean absolutely nothing. Oh, and if you decide to say that you're looking for someone who "shares (my) interests," it would be a good idea to actually say what those are.
So there you have it. Internet dating . . . I'm willing to concede that it might improve once you're willing to spend money on it. Until I have that kind of disposable income, however, I'm going to stick with my usual strategy: Making awkward chit-chat with ladies on the train from work, then following them in the parking lot, get a face full of pepper spray, and then run off screaming something about coffee and phone numbers.

Perhaps it sounds painful, but how could it be worse than online dating?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Is that an antigen you're presenting or are you just happy to see me?

I'm working on my PhD in Immunology, so I found this article fascinating on a few different levels (there's a long version and a short version). Recent research has found, apparently, that women are more attracted to men who are immunologically dissimilar (that is, their MHC* alleles are more distinct) than those who are similar to them. The interesting thing about this is that it is "detected" through scent. The kicker is that this trend reverses when a woman is on birth control pills; she is more likely to be attracted to immunologically similar men than not.

Of course, pheremone and other scent-based research often ought to be taken with a grain of salt, but if it's true, it's interesting. The authors of these articles (and the researchers) speculate that a lot of relationships may experience difficulty because a woman will find herself attracted to her partner while she is on the pill, but after they marry and she goes off of it she suddenly finds herself attracted to different scents. This does ignore the human element in every relationship, but it's certainly feasible that this might be a factor.

I've said for a while now that I think research is going to find, someday, that these birth control schemes are not as healthy for women as we think. It may not be overtly harmful, but there's a lot of subtle things happening in there, and it's going to be those things which get overlooked in short-term studies.

On a different note, perhaps I should figure out how to turn the clothing I wear to bed into a cologne. Apparently the ladies can't resist a big ol' wiff of your MHC.

* - For those of you not in the know, MHC stands for "major histocompatibility complex." The immune system uses it for presentation of foreign components in order to trigger an immune response as well as preventing the immune system from reacting to your own proteins.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Being Thankful

This is a strange year for me. It's the first year that I'll celebrate Thanksgiving away from home. When I was in college, I managed to get away each year to go home and enjoy the holiday with my family, but this year it's just not in the cards. I suppose I could curse my program for scheduling an exam the Monday after, but that's just the way the schedule turned out.

However, my parents and sister did come into town this past weekend, and we celebrated Thanksgiving together Sunday evening. It wasn't quite the same, but it means the world to me that they took the effort all the same.

There's no real point to this post, I suppose. I just wanted to share that story. Whatever your circumstances this year for the holiday, be thankful for what you have.

Bad genes are racist?

I'll admit that I'm pretty hard on college-age liberals. It's been my experience, by and large, that they're driven largely by passion. This gives them the illusion of legitimacy, but results in people who end up throwing their brains out the window at the behest of their "passions."

Like I said, sometimes I think I ought to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then I read stories like this:

OTTAWA - The Carleton University Students' Association has voted to drop a cystic fibrosis charity as the beneficiary of its annual Shinearama fundraiser, supporting a motion that argued the disease is not "inclusive" enough.

Cystic fibrosis "has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men" said the motion read Monday night to student councillors, who voted almost unanimously in favour of it. The decision caused heated reaction and left at least one member of council calling for a new vote.

Every year near the beginning of fall classes, during university orientation for new arrivals, students fan out across the city and seek donations from passersby. According to the motion, "all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve their (sic) diverse communities."

I'm not sure I can accurately describe just how flabbergasted this leaves me. If you are so wrapped up in identity politics that you're willing to declare that "white" diseases unworthy of your dime, then perhaps we need to revisit the concept of "racism."

Yeesh. This is exactly why I don't like discussing politics on university campuses.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cool your jets

Woo! Everyone who has ever made fun of me for using this word can eat those words! I totally called this!

Er, um, ahem. I mean, uh, whatever. Who cares? Not like it's worth getting excited about or anything.

Which is kinda how I feel about the exam I have in 2 hours. Is it Christmas yet?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The One's Biggest Fan

Hanging out at the student center, I just heard CNN interviewing Oprah about Obama ("The One")'s election. She was near tears. I just had to laugh, though.

When asked how she felt, she choked back and told the reporter, "I just feel . . . like anything is possible, now."

Really? You have what is likely the highest rated afternoon talk show in the world, not to mention being a multimillionaire yourself, and it's this that makes you feel like anything is possible?

Some people lack perspective. Or a sense of irony. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

Post Election Hangover

A lot of people think that we only end up with the government that we deserve. I typically hope that doesn't end up being the case.

While I'm severely disappointed that Obama ended up winning the election, I at least have a few good things to look forward to. Chief among them, I suspect President Obama will give me endless material to blog about.

Most importantly, though, I think a lot of people are going to have something of an "awakening," maybe even within the first year of Obama's term. Obama walked into office by telling each audience what he thought they wanted to hear, the only constant being his vapid and transparent appeals to "hope and change." Once he's in office, though, he actually has to get around to doing something. I suspect he'll attempt to pull off the radically liberal agenda he affirmed to some audiences and then denied to others. Whether he gets them past Congress is another matter, but mandating taxpayer-funded abortions and bankrupting coal-fired power plants may certainly raise a few eyebrows. If nothing else, he'll never live up to the promise that so many of his followers saw in him, and this will lead to disllusionment and anger. People will either feel that they were sold a socialist in centrists' clothing, or a centrist in socialists' clothing, but either way someone is going to have buyer's remorse.

One thing I especially want to hit on, though, is this hype about how "historical" it is that we've elected our first black President. Let's skip past the obvious line about judging someone by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Will the election of a black President change anything?

I could see it go either way. Perhaps those black nationalists that Obama associated himself with all these years will see a black man in the highest position of power in the country, see little change, and realize that perhaps the paranoid conspiracy theories about the government concocting AIDS to kill black people (among silly beliefs) are nothing but that. Perhaps they'll realize that things really have changed in the last few decades, and now it is more incumbent on people themselves to lift themselves up, rather than blame all their troubles on the malice of others.

Unfortunately, I find it just as likely that these people will be racist nutters no matter what happens. When President Obama doesn't immediately release the super-secret government cure for AIDS, spend government money to pay for all of their bills, and release every black man from prison, they'll conclude he's just another "Uncle Tom" and wait for a "real" black politician to step up and lead them to the promised land. Whatever that might be.

I don't know what the next few years will bring. I can only hope that we'll avoid lasting damage to this country and in the world at large before it's all over.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why so serious?

My blog posts have been just a tad to infrequent lately, and it seems like those few posts that do emerge are a bit serious. It's Saturday, why not lighten the mood?

First up, we have Mr. Green Genes, a cat who had green-fluorescent protein genes transformed with his own. The scientists on this project can claim whatever purpose they want for doing this, we all know why they really did it: He's super cute and can't hide from you in the dark. Very helpful when they're eating your shoes at 1 in the morning. Not that I'd know anything about that.

Moving along . . .

I've only been out of the country once in my life. It was fun. Sometimes I wish I did it more often, that I could see more of the world. Then I see stories like this, and I think to myself, "Screw the rest of the world, I'm staying home." We don't EVER see monstrosities like that in Farmland, USA.

So there's your news-lite Saturday. Now go do something fun.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why a pro-life person can't vote for Obama

This is related to my post below. The Hot Air piece did include a section on abortion. However, this is a much more comprehensive article on that subject in itself, so it's a must read if you consider yourself pro-life and are considering voting for Obama this year.

The most eye-catching indictment is that Obama intends to sign the freedom of choice act as soon as he's in office, which would make abortions a right in federal law, provide public funds for abortions (though public health aid), and remove conscience clauses that allow physicians and nurses to opt out of such procedures on moral grounds.

There's lots more, including analysis both on what he would do as president and what he has already done as a senator (state and national).

The bottom line is that Obama is in no way, shape, or form a pro-life candidate. If that platform is important to you, then there is no justifying a vote for him.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Case Against Obama

I realize I've been largely silent on the election for the last several months. It's just been rather tiring. The rather "friendly" treatment Barack Obama receives from the media, alongside the absolutely atrocious treatment of Sarah Palin has left me shaking my head.

Still, it's worth it to point out the reasons why I won't (and wouldn't ever) vote Obama in November. There's so much to go with that it's hard to know where to start. That's why I'm glad some of the good folks over at Hot Air wrote this: The comprehensive argument against Barack Obama.

I hope you do take the time to read it. Unless you're the type to vote Democrat under any circumstances, I think you'll find something worth considering in the piece.

Monday, October 06, 2008

4th Edition

I've been struggling on topics to write about lately. Politics are just leaving me too melancholy as of late. Science is bogging me down in pretty much every other waking moment of my life, so I'd prefer some escape from that at the moment. I haven't felt very insightful lately when it comes to theology or philosophy. I'm just a bit too strapped for cash at the moment to be writing about video games (well, new ones at least).

Then I remembered that Dungeons and Dragons was something of a popular topic previously. That's something I can write about, right? And if I can write about it without driving away 90% of my audience, all the better!

The topic up for grabs here is the 4th edition of D&D. If you're not familiar, Wizards of the Coast released the fourth edition of this classic game several months ago. Also, if you're not familiar, I'm going to suggest you go read up on the topic, because the rest of this post won't make much sense to people who haven't played it before. I'll try to fill in the blanks, but I can only do so much with a single blog post.

Before 4th ed. was released, I'd only played 3.5. What can I say, I've only been at this for a year or so. I thought I'd mainly compare my thoughts on the new edition to its most recent predecessor.

As far as combat-powers and abilities go, I really like where 4th ed. is. In 3.5, spellcasters could only cast a limited number of spells each day before they were spent. Martial characters didn't have this problem, but they suffered from a distinct lack of options. They generally would walk up, hit the monster, wait for their turn to whack it again, and repeat ad nauseum until it stopped moving. As time went on, this started to pale in comparison to the reality altering hijinks of wizards and clerics.

The new edition seems to get around this by offering all characters something to do each round. Powers are now divided into At-will (which have unlimited usage), Encounter (which can be used once each fight), and Daily (which can be used once a day). Martial classes and spellcasters have these alike, and each one does something different but at comparable power levels. With the power gap closed, it's useful to have fighters and rogues in the party, and clerics and wizards don't steal all the thunder. In fact, I've been playing a cleric in my current 4th ed game, and my main contributions to combat are healing.

All in all, I like where the system went. Characters have various options at their disposal and each class has a specific and useful role to play.

Non-combat situations, on the other hand, have suffered slightly. All those spells that casters used to have access to which could be used outside of combat are now gone. They've been replaced by rituals, but rituals are burdensome and expensive, useful only in critical or non-spontaneous situations. When they take 10 minutes (in game) to cast, you can't just pull them out of your hat, so to speak.

In addition, the skill list has been cut down dramatically. While this is useful in simplifying what used to be a complicated and intimidating arrangement, it leaves a lot of people unsure of how to apply their various skills, and I've found it also makes players reluctant to use them as well.

Perhaps saying that the rules here "suffered" is overstating it a bit. It may just take time for players familiar with the 3.5 system to adjust to the new metagame. Still, there was far greater versatility in non-combat approaches to the world in 3.5 than is apparent in 4th ed (so far).

Over all, I like 4th ed. If I ever get the chance, or even have the time, to run a D&D game again, I'm not sure whether I would choose 4th ed or 3.5 for the system. Both are fun and enjoyable, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Then again, the way grad school is progressing, I may not have to worry about it for several years.

Oh well. At least I still get to play.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Missing Something

You may not know this, but people are celebrating Rosh Hashanah right now. I wouldn't have known, except we had classes cancelled for today and tomorrow. I guess there were enough jewish people involved with the course that they saw fit to cancel classes.

Apparently, during Rosh Hashanah, one is prohibited from doing any work that was done in the tabernacle. I'm not sure who's in charge of the modern day interpretation of this, but last night my neighbors asked me if I could turn off their alarm clock for them, as they weren't allowed to. They even panicked when I left a lightswitch on in their bedroom, as that's another bit of "work" they can't do either.

Let's leave aside any theological disagreements I might have with such practices. I found this to be something quite startling all the same. These people care so much about honoring God that they had to ask their neighbor to turn off their alarm clock for them.

When I think about a lot of people in the modern church, including myself, I have to wonder whether there is that level of dedication, whether we are too permissive. Do we consider holiness that important? What would it look like if we did?

I guess the whole affair left me with more questions than answers.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Banality of Evil

Today in lecture, we were discussing the diagnosis of genetic diseases, sickle cell anemia and thalassemia in particular.

Thalassemia is a rather brutal disease when one is homozygous for the disease. It's not pretty. The lecturer discussed various methods by which the Italian island of Sardinia reduced the number of cases of people with the advanced form of the disease. Genetic counseling and widespread testing lead to people not having children if they were at risk of having diseased children.

If that had been all, I would have been fine with it. The professor also decided to mention prenatal testing, and cited abortion as the obvious outcome of such a procedure. She made reference to Italy legalizing abortion in the 70s, and apparently no one has looked back. She made a joke about the Pope being free to mind his own business. Some people in the class chuckled.

I'm not going to pretend that such decisions are easy to make. It's certainly a heavy matter to find out that your child is going to be born with a painfully crippling disease. This doesn't change the morality of such a decision, but I'm not going to trivialize it.

Still, the amazing thing to me was how glib the professor was about the matter, as if she was referring to something as simple as an appendectomy. Some people laughed when she acted glibly about it; I think you could have picked my jaw off the floor.

There are some thing I'll just never understand.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Genetics as a model

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a professor from John Hopkins. His talk was on ciliopathies, which might not sound terribly exciting, but the man was a terrifically engaging speaker.

There's probably little interest in hearing about any of that stuff amongst you readers, but he did use it to emphasize an overarching message about scientific bias. In the world of disease genetics, it seems there's a tendency to think in terms of, "one disease, one gene." Especially in the idea that what you observe in the inheritance patterns is definitive. This guy, Nicholas Katsanis, instead argued that incomplete penetrance demands that such thinking be put aside and alternative explanations examined. The end result being that most genetic diseases are incredibly complicated, with most of the involved mutations to the pathways providing only a percentage of the observed result. That is to say, three individual mutations might not show any sort of disease phenotype, but combinations of those mutations could give a spectrum of disease severity. He related this to his research by showing that genes which are written off as having nothing to do with a disease can, in fact, contribute to a disease state.

It's not really my intention to turn this blog into the "scientific bias" show, but if such problems can exist in biological sciences, why can't it be a problem for people involved in global warming research?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thinking like a hypothesis

During my first week here, we had a "back to basics" lecture entitled, "Thinking Like a Scientist: How to Formulate a Hypothesis." I wasn't paying much attention, to the above title is what I ended up writing on my page of notes. Sometimes even I wonder what strange malady addles my brain. At least I got some blog fodder out of it.

Of course, the take home message of the whole thing was that a hypothesis isn't scientific if it isn't falsifiable. This could come in any number of forms: The thing you want to prove isn't testable, the way the test is designed automatically gives the assumed result, any outcome results in a confirmation of the hypothesis, etc. This is has to be distinguished from modifying your hypothesis to fit new data. Unfortunately, sometimes modifying the hypothesis can look like bending the data to fit a favored conclusion.

This is one of the things that I find so frustrating about the global warming debate. Not really being versed in the specifics of the science, a lot of what takes place looks to be a case of sticking to a favored conclusion (or in the case of guys like James Hansen, it's more than just appearance). We see things like, "If the glaciers melt, it's global warming, but if they grow in mass, it's also global warming." How could you not reach that conclusion?

Still, I admit the possibility that what we see more of is adaptation of the theories based on expanding data. I don't think this is communicated very well if it's the case. I think what concerns me most is that it doesn't seem to take place enough. There are significant numbers of studies out there which reject the idea that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is going to destroy us all, but it seems like it is more often rejected outright rather than integrated into the existing theories regarding climate science. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if politics weren't so tightly bound to this. When people are proposing plans of action that will restructure society and cost trillions of dollars, it seems like it might be a good idea to take as much information in as possible before you start running with a plan.

Then again, what do I know?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

That research is fowl

Today I had a seminar on how to give a scientific presentation. Sounds pretty boring, right? This is especially true when you've given enough of them that it's "old hat."

Ah, but then our presenter warned us on the dangers of having presentations that all sound alike. It was in that that I saw the funniest piece of science EVAH.

This is the way science should be done.

I can't find that powerpoint presentation, but it's based off of this journal article here.

Man, I need to get into that journal.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The More Things Change

Ah, you know the drill.

I know I've been absent for a while, but my excuse this time is that I've moved 900 miles away. That'll keep you busy for a while.

Anyhow, I'm mostly settled into Baltimore now. It's a bit strange, but I think I'll manage. You should get some posts out of me relatively soon. I'm still trying to get into a good groove. A regular posting schedule will probably come with the start of school in two weeks. In the mean time, there'll probably be stuff popping up sporadically.

Oh, did I mention I also adopted the world's cutest kitty?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Going once . . . going twice . . .


In case you're not the link-followin' type, Anheuser-Busch has been sold to InBev for $49.9B. That's $70/share.

I don't really know what to say about this. It's the nature of the market that such things happen. Still, it would have been nice for the area had ownership been maintained here.

Still, so long as the products remain the same (or improve) and jobs aren't slashed in the region, I guess I have nothing real to complain about.

Here's to you, Mr. Foreign-Conglomerate Guy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yellow Science

That's the title of an article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It compares the use of disreputable, sensational journalism (Yellow Journalism) to the "science" being peddled as global warming (or global climate change, whatever's in vogue right now).

You should read the entire thing, but here's a nice sample:

Nevertheless, over the past several decades an increasing number of scientists have shed the restraints imposed by the scientific method and begun to proclaim the truth of man-made global warming. This is a hypothesis that remains untested, makes no predictions that can be tested in the near future, and cannot offer a numerical explanation for the limited evidence to which it clings. No equations have been shown to explain the relationship between fossil-fuel emission and global temperature. The only predictions that have been made are apocalyptic, so the hypothesis has to be accepted before it can be tested.

The only evidence that can be said to support this so-called scientific consensus is the supposed correlation of historical global temperatures with historical carbon-dioxide content in the atmosphere. Even if we do not question the accuracy of our estimates of global temperatures into previous centuries, and even if we ignore the falling global temperatures over the past decade as fossil-fuel emissions have continued to increase, an honest scientist would still have to admit that the hypothesis of man-made global warming hardly rises to the level of "an assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure." Global warming may or may not be "the greatest scam in history," as it was recently called by John Coleman, a prominent meteorologist and the founder of the Weather Channel. Certainly, however, under the scientific method it does not rise to the level of an "item of physical knowledge."

I have to admit that, when it comes to atmospheric science, I'm not much better off than a layman. I'm a chemist and molecular biologist by training, so much of the physics that goes into it is beyond me. However, I can tell when something is not being put to the rigorous scrutiny that science demands. All I've ever seen out of the global warming "debate" is a great PR blitz; Don't question it, don't try to understand it, just go along with it or else you're evil.

This wouldn't be so big a deal if the goal were to just get global warming acknowledged. However, the larger goal is a restructuring of societies and economies at a scale that has never been seen in human history before. It's not irresponsible to suggest that we should have more debate, and better confirmation, of the apocalyptic predictions that global warming could
unleash before drastically altering everything that has made humanity prosperous since the 19th century.

My preferred solution is to wait. When predictions like these are made, they seem to assume a static level of technology. Who's to say that 50 years from now there won't be technology that will either give better information or allow for better handling of any actual problems that might arise? I'm not arguing that we should bank on solutions that don't yet exist, but to assume that only the environment will be different in that amount of time is just as silly.

Ahem, all that aside, read the whole article.

Related: Global Warming as Mass Neurosis

Slum Lord Obama

One of the things we see as part of Obama's "impressive" resume is his experience as a "community organizer." Everytime I see that, I wonder to myself what, exactly, a community organizer does. Now we know:
The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can't afford to live anywhere else.

But it's not safe to live here.

About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale - a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.

Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing - an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing.

As a state senator, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee coauthored an Illinois law creating a new pool of tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.

But a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies - including several hundred in Obama's former district - deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama's close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama's constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted.

As much as I quoted, there's much more to the article. Read it all.

This only continues to confirm, for me, the hypocrisy and general sleazy nature of Barack Obama. The question in my mind, then, is whether or not this will change anyone's mind. Sadly, I imagine a lot of people who want to vote for Captain Hopey McChange will tell themselves, "Yes, he's a scumbag, but he's our scumbag."

Hat tip: Ace

Friday, June 27, 2008

My Life as King: Slow Bleed

One of the biggest gripes Gamespot had about this game was the nature of the microtransactions. I didn't consider it in my review, but it's definitely worth mentioning.

Available for additional purchase after you download the game ($15) are several add-ons. These don't change the game dramatically, so none of them are critical to actually playing through the game. However, some people are completionists, and it will drive them up the wall to know they don't have everything.

The items for download cost between $1-3. Some of them simply add new dungeons for your followers to complete, along with whatever rewards might be found therein. Others allow for new buildings to be constructed, including those which draw citizens of different races to your city. Still others are just cosmetic upgrades, such as a new outfit for the king.

My reaction to this was somewhat double-minded; on the one hand, if you're enjoying a game, what's an additional $1 to add in some more content? On the other, purchasing everything they have available doubles the price of the game. And a full dollar just for a freaking costume change? That's ridiculous.

On top of that, it seems as though a lot of the new content is built into the game; this means that you're just paying to unlock it. A lot of people rightly fear that games will go in this direction. You pay full price for a game that only allows you access to the most basic aspects of it, while slowly bleeding your wallet so that you can enjoy the entire game.

You might find this to be a disgusting business practice. I can't say I disagree. I guess we all have to vote with our wallets, but good luck turning back the clock on this one.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Sometimes I despise post-modern America, where labels mean whatever you want them to mean. Oh sure, that's not universally true. I could call myself a lesbian, but most people would just look at me like I was a certified whacko. Still, there are areas where this seems to flourish, and it drives me batty.

Here's what I'm getting at: The Pew Forum recently released the data for the second part of their Religious Landscape survey in America. One of the most disturbing aspects, at least to me, involves self-identified Evangelical Christians. When asked whether their religion was the only way to heaven (a central dogma in Christianity), 57% said no. Fifty-seven percent! That means that at least half, if not more, of all self-identifying Evangelical Christians don't even understand what it means to be Christian! Is it any wonder that American Christianity sees such decline?

Of course, such silliness is not limited to Christians, either. Apparently 5% of atheists believe in God. Seriously? This word you keep using, "atheist" . . . I don't think it means what you think it means.

Review: My Life as King

I haven't bought a lot of video games lately, mainly due to rising costs elsewhere in my life. Moving across the country ain't cheap, I'm slowly discovering. Still, after hearing the praise this game received from others, I thought I'd give Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as King a try.

This game is one of the new Wii Ware titles, downloadable games attracting a bit more attention than the ports from earlier times Nintendo offered previously.

This title has a lot of the themes you'd find familiar in a Final Fantasy game: White and Black Mages, Thieves and Warriors, buying armor and weapons and potions (Oh my!), etc. The catch is that a lot of that stuff is now out of your hands.

Think of it as a blend of SimCity (or The Sims, depending on your preferred flavor) and a traditional Final Fantasy game. You're the king of this developing nation. You use your magic to summon buildings (and thus people) into the city. From each home you bring in, you can recruit an adventurer. These adventurers can be trained into other classes, and will go forth from your city each day to earn experience and fight monsters. You can issue royal edicts to tell them where to go and what to do, too, in order to prosper your realm.

When your adventurers and other citizens start needing amenities in their city, you build those as well: Weapon and Armor shops, Bakeries, Taverns . . . a great assortment of buildings and features to better your city and help it prosper.

You don't just run around building all day, either. You can chat up your citizens, which increases morale in the city. When you've increased morale to certain levels, you can spend the "excess" and advance your city. Alternatively, you can use your magic with the morale to really help your citizens, allowing bonuses for your adventurers as they go out or helping your citizens get along with their friends and family better.

Though this might sound rather complicated, the game is, at its heart, a fairly simple strategy/sim game. Despite the mediocre review given to it by Gamespot, I was quite taken with it. I lost a lot of hours to Maxis games in the past, so this game's appeal was striking.

I would recommend this game heartily to anyone who either 1) likes fantasy, or 2) likes Sim games. If you like both, then why haven't you downloaded it yet?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ten Concerns on Obama

Sometimes, when I tell people that I'm not going to vote for Barack Obama, they look at me in utter shock. It's as if I'm telling them I don't like ice cream, or that raping puppies should be the new national pastime. Something to that effect, anyway.

To summarize my objections, I offer this NRO article: Ten Concerns about Barack Obama. You should definitely read the entire thing, but I'll distill the thing down to the authors' bullet points:
  1. Barack Obama’s foreign policy is dangerous, na├»ve, and betrays a profound misreading of history

  2. Barack Obama’s Iraq policy will hand al-Qaeda a victory and undercut our entire position in the Middle East, while at the same time put a huge source of oil in the hands of terrorists

  3. Barack Obama has sent mixed, confusing, and inconsistent messages on his policy toward Israel

  4. In the primary campaign, Barack Obama consistently campaigned against NAFTA, but has now changed his tune, as he has with other issues

  5. Barack Obama’s judgment about personal and professional affiliations is more than troubling

  6. Obama is simply out of step with how terrorists should be handled; he would turn back the clock on how we fight terrorism, using the failed strategy of the 1990s as opposed to the post-9/11 strategy that has kept us safe

  7. Barack Obama’s economic policies would hurt the economy

  8. Barack Obama opposes drilling on and offshore to reduce gas and oil prices

  9. Barack Obama is to the left of Hillary Clinton and NARAL on the issue of life

  10. Barack Obama is actually to the left of every member of the U.S. Senate

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hip to be square

Last night I went to a concert with an old high school friend. She works for a small record label, Polyvinyl, so going to trendy clubs for concerts is both a common thing and a big deal for her. If you know anything about me, you know that this sort of thing puts me completely out of my element.

After last night, I don't think anything changed that at all.

Perhaps I just don't understand what draws people to certain subcultural trends. It strikes me that a lot of the current 'hipster' trends reflects an attempt to live in ages bygone. I'm not really certain why my generation looks back at previous decades and wistfully dreams of reliving such golden days, but it seems to be the way it is. The 70s seem to bring out the hideous plaid shirts, the beers that are inexplicably being brewed yet, the haircuts (and facial hair) that show a contempt for the barber's tools . . . I don't get it. The 80s bring out too-tight, too-short jeans, Converse All-Stars (as well as other shoes which were probably fished out of a Thrift Store dumpster), etc.

Look, I'm probably the last person who should criticize anyone's fashion tastes. Lord knows my own choices run the gamut from "My sister dressed me at American Eagle" and "I own 1000 silly gamer tees." It's just strange to me how it seems like so much of the hipster scene is an attempt to capture something from the past. I wonder why that is.

Anyhow, to put a cap on this pointless post, I thought I would leave you all with Hipster Bingo. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

For Me, Not Thee

I saw something about this in an article the other day, but it was mentioned in an off-hand way so that I didn't think too much about it.

At York University (Canada), the student government is voting on a measure to ban all student-led pro-life groups from campus. Their reasoning? It violates women's rights to allow someone to tell them that abortion is wrong or to call it murder.

One of the things to keep in mind is that most of the student body has left for the summer, so some people might be returning in the fall to find out that their group has been disbanded by order of the student government. What better time to enact such matters than when the plebians are least likely to complain?

I can't fathom the mindset of such people. Is it that they think there is some redeeming quality to taking away someone's right to free speech? Or is it that they genuinely think women have a right to be inoculated against pro-life messages? Either way, the thinking is alien to me.

Hat tip: Ace

Off-label, Indeed

I've never been much a club-going, bar-hopping hipster. A friend of mine drug me to a bar with a DJ not too long ago and it didn't do too much for me. It really doesn't surprise me, then, that I missed this silly little trend:
New York bouncer, blogger and author Rob Fitzgerald has noticed a trend among many of the macho young men waiting outside his clubs. He says the guys are slathering up their torsos with the hemorrhoid cream Preparation H to make themselves look "ripped" for the ladies.
I can't decide if this is one of those things that's too silly to be made up, or too silly to be true. Either way . . . yikes.

My favorite comment I've heard on this, so far, is that this isn't really off-label use. Afterall, isn't Preparation H meant to be rubbed on irritating . . . well, you know. Really, though, the best part is the picture they included with the story:

Monday, June 02, 2008

All of the above?

I was driving back from Chicago the other day and something strange happened to me.

A van began to pass me on the left. While that is not unusual, I was surprised when the passenger put a sign up on her window for me to read.
Horny? We are!
It was then followed by two MySpace addresses. I couldn't tell you what they were, the girls were driving too fast. I was quite confused. Why are these ladies doing this? Are they "adult models?" Hookers? Just looking for a "good time?" Or are they simply attention whores, looking for traffic to their pages?

Hard to say, but it was just very weird.

And yeah, I realize I have squandered my moments of high traffic by not posting on the blog for a while. Surprisingly, I've had a life to occupy my time. Go figure, eh?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Classic Bully

I've been critical of the decision to allow China to host the olympics for quite a while, and everytime I read another story about the torch journeying around the world, my reasons are only confirmed.

Over at Big Lizards, Sachi has a long post documenting some of the recent shenanigans committed in China's name by protesters. It seems that when countries would not allow China's "secret" police to "guard" the torch as it went, they called their foreign nationals to action, fomenting them to violent demonstrations.

The whole thing is worth reading.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Video Game Stuff

Why? Because I'm a huge nerd with lots of time on my hands, that's why. I haven't written much about video games since the new Smash Bros. was released, so I thought I'd toss a couple of things in.

Mario Kart
It's hard to write a review about such an iconic game. If you own a Wii, you either know about this series or you don't. After so many years and so many iterations, you've either played it and enjoyed it or you haven't.

That said, I do have some thoughts on this new version.

The game is just as brutal and unforgiving as it has been in the recent past. I find it quite frustrating playing through the single player campaigns; I'm a fine driver, pretty decent if I do say so myself. Yet it's horrible to even attempt the higher difficulty races, just because the computer devastates you with an endless barrage of items. There's not much more infuriating than seeing that finish line in front of you and getting hit with a blue shell.

The game is still fun, though. While I'm not excited about paying $15 for pieces of plastic, the wheel really does feel comfortable and natural for playing the game. I haven't been online yet, so I can't comment on how well that mode works. The bikes are an interesting addition as well, though I'm not sure they're a huge deal.

Cosmetically, the game is nice. One of my favorite "small touches" added to the game are the Miis who populate the race courses. For example, they can be in the audience, or on the interstate track they work the tollbooths.

Things they got wrong? Unlockable content. It's very frustrating to know how many more characters and karts there are, but they can only be won by beating the most infuriatingly difficult portions of the single player game. That's not keeping with the multiplayer fun introduced by Double Dash.

Also, there are lots of courses that are taken straight from previous games. I dislike this trend; if they spent the energy making new courses instead of bringing old ones up-to-date, they would have a much richer game. As it is, it feels a bit lazy and recycled.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village
This one is interesting. The Good: Lots of puzzles and riddles, classic or otherwise, as well as some classic adventure gaming and excellent animation.

The Bad: Classic adventure gaming. As in, use the stylus to tap everything in sight and hope that something turns up. Bleh. Also, there is no soft reset feature, which is a problem for perfectionists (such as myself).

Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Yeah, more on this. What can I say, I've been playing it a lot since it was released? There's only a few things to criticize at the moment: Difficulty and lack of variety.

Not to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty good at this game. I've met no one who can completely shut me down in person, and online I typically lose only because of lag. I preface this with such bravado because the computer in this game is ridiculously difficult at the highest levels. I understand that programmers often make the game cheat to some degree or another to increase the difficulty level, but what on earth is the limit on this? I like to play games like this to completion, and the increase in difficulty on this one makes that a nearly impossible goal.

The lack of variety is more of a whine than anything. Yes, there were characters I thought they should have included in the game that they didn't. More of my thoughts on this, though, are what they could have done with the characters that they didn't.

For example, they included two different Links this time: Twilight Princess Link and Wind Waker Link. Rather than making them veritable carbon-copies of each other, as well as previous Links, why didn't they take advantage of their pedigrees? Why couldn't TP Link transform into his wolf form? Why couldn't WW Link use his baton to channel weather powers in battle? It seems like a lack of creativity that such options weren't taken advantage of. I could go on, but I think the point is clear.

That's my $0.02 on those varied topics, for what it's worth.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Making things Wright

Today's issue of the Chicago Tribune had a lot of articles about the relationship between Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama. Of course, the paper officially defended Sen. Obama and continued to promote his campaign for President. However, after reading so many articles about the matter, I've come to one conclusion: Nobody writing for this newspaper either understands, or chooses to acknowledge, the real reason Rev. Wright is such an issue.

The constant refrain is that things Rev. Wright says "may be considered 'controversial,'" as if he were just guilty of saying things people didn't want to hear. Others tried to make the problem about Wright's "lack of patriotism," and his "God d**m America" statements, particularly in attributing them to Obama. That is, of course, a problem, but it's not the heart of the situation.

The real problem is that Rev. Wright buys into the most outlandish of paranoid conspiracy mongering regarding the US government, and preached it from his pulpit. This includes examples such as his declaration that the US government created AIDS in order to commit genocide against minorities, or that it gives crack and other drugs to inner city minorities in order to . . . well, does it matter why? In addition to all of this, Wright is part of a movement of theologians who are essentially the black version of the KKK, at least philosophically. When you credit theologians who declare that the only God they can believe in is one who is only for blacks, and that this God must always be seeking to destroy the white oppressor . . . that is a severe problem. This isn't even going anywhere near the offense Christians ought to be taking at such a perversion of their beliefs.

Here is where it starts to get slippery: So many people will acknowledge at least the most venial of Wright's sins, but then question how it has any relevance to Obama and his campaign. I must state unequivocally that this association completely disqualifies Obama for being President of the United States.

There's an old saying (I don't recall the source anymore) that once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times is enemy action. Barack Obama sought out Wright. He has sat in the man's church for twenty years, and has referred to him as a mentor and a spiritual guide. Everything about this relationship indicates that it is more than just a casual acquaintance. What does this say about the judgment of a man who has been running on exactly that? I find it impossible that this kind of talk only recently cropped up at Trinity UCC, or that Obama never heard anything of the sort in twenty years of church membership. That kind of cop-out just strains credulity in a silly way. It either means that Obama's church membership was always a political expediency, or that he didn't care about such insanity from the pulpit. Either way, it reflects poorly on him, and makes his two very different speeches about Wright very opportunistic. It shows him to be just another weaselly politician willing to say whatever sounds right at the time to get elected.

That is why Rev. Wright matters. That is why Barack Obama is unfit to be our next President. It is just a tragedy that people are either unable or unwilling to accept it.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Religious news you can appreciate

With all the talk of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, you might not have seen this, but the United Methodist Church has been meeting this week for its General Conference. Despite the long, slow slide into liberal unorthodoxy that the leadership of the church has been making over the last several decades, the conference maintained its position that homosexual behavior is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

This is good news, though the war is far from over. Sometimes I wonder how the UMC became so infested with those who would put liberal claptrap and liberation theology, as well as their own power, ahead of the actual purposes of the church, such as the gospel and missions.

Whatever the case may be, this development is encouraging. For now.

Hat tip: Dr. Mohler and Mark Hemingway

Grand Theft Retort

I write about the various musings of Dr. Albert Mohler from time to time, so I hope you won't mind if I bring him up again. Earlier in the week, Dr. Mohler dedicated his daily radio program to discuss the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. As you can imagine, he didn't have much good to say about it. How convenient for this post, then, that he condensed the program into a blog post.

There's a lot for me to agree with Dr. Mohler regarding this subject. I can't really defend the content of GTA games, as I'd never play them myself. Games where the goal is to act criminally do not sit well with me. Anti-heroes are not what I would consider to be enjoyable escape.

That out of the way, Dr. Mohler makes a lot of mistakes in how he approaches this subject generally. While he acknowledges that these games are clearly meant for adults and not for children or teens, he seems to place equal blame on both the parents who buy these games for their children and on the creators for making the game in the first place. This is just indefensible. Should we not create things for adults only for the risk that children will be given access to it by the irresponsible? Should we ban the Bible at the risk of children reading about Lot and his many adventures?

Additionally, Dr. Mohler never explicitly comes out against video games in general, but his thematic approach is to deem them "inappropriate" at best. As in, "What responsible adult would waste their time with such things when there are other important matters to be dealt with?" This is a trend I hear a lot, and it's quite annoying. So many people tend to treat any form of entertainment with disdain, as if you're wasting your life by enjoying anything of the sort and good Christians would be better off reading the Bible than getting bogged down in that junk.

The problem is that so many people selectively apply these things. Video games are bad for you, but television is okay. Movies are bad, but literature is just fine. Card games are evil, but board games are fun for all! Take your pick, someone has argued against or for any of the above.

I can't defend people who do anything obsessively, especially when it gets in the way of real obligations and healthy lifestyle choices, but this vendetta against video games in general is misguided. There is nothing unbiblical about video games. Even if you consider it a waste of time to play them, that is your opinion. People can certainly enjoy them while maintaining a healthy balance in their life.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Campaign Differences

Last week, Shamus put up a link on his blog about the end of my campaign (which was originally his). In the resulting discussion I told Shamus I'd discuss how things turned out differently between our respective campaigns. He thought other people would be curious as well, so I decided I'd turn it into a blog post.

Major Warning: This post won't make much sense if you're not familiar with Shamus's campaign, so I'd recommend reading his stuff before you read my own, or at least read them side-by-side. This post is largely about the differences between our campaigns, so it'll reference his material heavily without going into a lot of specific details. The only place you'll see heavy details are when I find them amusing or when my campaign included material not written by Shamus. Also beware: This post is a behemoth.

The Intro
This isn't technically part of Shamus' campaign, but I'd never been DM before and I thought a little intro mission was needed so we could get comfortable with the system. This was a pretty silly cliche intro, but the characters had no backstory so I had to come up with something. They answered some ad on a bulletin board looking for mercenaries. The overworked city guard needed an escaped criminal picked up, dead or alive. I should point out that their proof that they killed the right guy was to cut off his hand with his distinctive ring still on it. Bleh. Anyhow, it was a pretty simple investigation followed by some easy battles. Well, relatively easy. The elven cleric almost died at the hands of a barbarian. Most amusing part? The party snuck around a hide out, then spent an hour discussing how to ambush the gangsters within. The fighter got bored and walked over to the door and tried to bash it in. "Tried" is the operative term here. So much for the element of suprise, eh?

The Trip to Mar Tesaro
I tried to stay true to Shamus's material on this part, which was a mistake. There was an entire scene of role playing while the characters took a ship over to the island the game would be set on. I was a new GM. Shamus probably had a nice environment set up for his ship with great chances of interaction. Mine played out more or less like a static movie. "Okay guys, now here's another thing happening that will turn out the same whatever you choose to say or do." I tried to make it interactive, I really did. Retrospect tells me a lot about what I did wrong. In the end, they were ship-wrecked at Mar Tesaro. I wanted to follow the normal rules for swimming and drowning and so forth, but I realized that was going to wipe out my guys very fast. Nobody had ranks in swim, and I think they'd have died before they abandoned any of their gear. They ended up getting to keep everything and still end up washing ashore on the beach. The players were happy, but I think it could have turned out better.

The Adventure Hook
So, why were my guys on a ship in the first place? Their initial mission was supposed to be a "test." The king sent them after that criminal because he needed adventurers to accompany one of his special forces operatives on a journey. The journey? There really was no journey, but that wasn't important, since they were getting shipwrecked anyhow. The character was a Blade Lord, a fighter-type character who might seem suspiciously familiar.

After they'd shipwrecked the only people who seemed to have survived were the party and a sailor named Beck. If you don't know Shamus's story, Beck had a pregnant girlfriend on another island and he wanted to get back to her. Beck was supposed to act as the fill-in; since there was no rogue in the party, they needed someone who could pick locks and do other skillful things. He was almost worthless in combat, but he had levels in an NPC class. That happens.

The party ends up finding the sword that belonged to their special forces guide, Oltean, indicating that he'd survived. For some reason, it looks like he started heading south without his sword. The party decided to go chasing after him with his sword. (This takes the place of Endo the monk, who had was the one to head south in Shamus's game.)

This portion of the adventure wasn't terribly different from Shamus's version. The party rolls into town, finds that their mark has fled south, and get a side-quest to filch some stuff out of the blacksmith's house, currently occupied by enemy soldiers. Again, no rogue meant they had to come up with a creative way to get rid of the soldiers guarding the front door. The bard summoned a celestial owl, which lead the soldiers on a wild goose chase through the woods. The party then went down to get stuff out of the basement, but I still ended up making the same mistake Shamus did: No light source for the party, so the dwarf should have been the only one who could see. Oops.

Shamus originally intended that quest as a way of restocking his guys, since they lost a bunch of stuff in the shipwreck. My guys didn't lose a thing, so they took it as a chance to load up on stuff. The funny thing was, the quest was to liberate some stuff for the resistance to utilize; weapons, armor, supplies, etc. The blacksmith told them if they pulled it off, they could grab a few things out of the supplies. My guys couldn't use most of it, but they wanted to take ALL of it. I had to talk them out of it. I also provided them the same magic horn that Shamus gave to his players. I gave it very minimal stats, based on what Shamus wrote of it. This would teach me some lessons in how to properly balance a magical item later on.

Breakshore was also the first chance for the party to interact with the game world. We were three sessions in at this point, and here was my first problem: The guys weren't interacting with my world. Yes, they were hitting up locations in the village, but the NPCs? I had to goad them into asking questions. My guys approached the NPCs like this: "Hey, we're looking for a guy, have you seen him? Oh, he went south, thanks. Hey, can you give me anything to help me out?" It was a little more drawn out than that, but that question came up a lot during the campaign.

My next problem was the elven cleric. This character worshipped the elven god, but these were mainly human lands; there were originally no temples for the elves anywhere. As soon as we entered the town, the cleric says, "I go to the Corellon temple." Um . . . uh oh. I tried to solve this problem with a reference to the island's history.

In Shamus's story, the original inhabitants of the island were a group of peaceful, rustic elves. They were killed by a group of dwarves for the riches of the mountain. This invoked a curse from the spirit of the mountain on all who would mine its bounty. What I came up with was a follow-up curse on the elves because of the evil of the dwarves. When great dwarven leaders die, their ashes are sometimes imbued into weapons to give them great power. When the original dwarven king died, his ashes were turned into a weapon, which resulted in a curse on the elves who were killed. Their spirits would restlessly remain in the land, and future elves who tried to dwell on the island would lose their normal carefree spirits.

Well, this subplot seemed like a good idea, but I didn't do a very good job weaving it in.

Jolana Village
In Shamus's original campaign, the party could either head southeast over the plains to Jolana Village or head southwest through the forest to Woodhurst. In both his campaign and my own, the players opted to head across the not-so-fruited plains. This played out exactly as it did in Shamus's campaign, which was largely due to the awesome map and dungeon notes Shamus posted about this leg of the journey. I threw a few more traps in on the way to the dungeon, but otherwise it was almost identical. Thanks, Shamus!

The Weather Hills
Shamus's party skipped right over this part. His cleric was high enough in level to cast a spell for walking on water, so they just crossed the river. My guys weren't high enough at that point, so they had to work their way through the goblin infested hills. This was a pretty good "dungeon."

I had the hills set up as a natural maze. There was a natural path, filled with thick undergrowth, running between the various hills. The party could cross over the hills, but it wouldn't get them through any faster, and they'd be exposed to attack from the goblins. The party didn't have a map, but they generally knew they needed to head southeast. At each intersection, I rolled randomly for the traps they'd encounter on a table I made. A failed spot check resulted in a trap that triggered, and the goblins would spring out and attack.

They only got attacked once, but this turned out pretty good all the same. The party fighter ended up in a pit, which made it a pretty interesting fight, as he'd have torn right through the goblins.

There was one other trap that rather failed. I found a template for trapped weapons, which deal damage to the wielder when they swing it the first time, so I had the goblins leave a trapped greatsword sitting in the middle of the plain. Of course, the party fighter scooped it up, but he had no intention of using it. He was a dwarf; his waraxe was his only weapon! I figured he'd do something with it at some point. Even if he only sold it, the shopkeeper would get injured checking it out. Except . . . he "sold" it without telling me when he got to the next town. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

This part, too, turned out very similarly to Shamus's campaign. A membership to the mage's guild from a wizard they killed led the party bard to try to impersonate him to get discounts on new gear. This lead to an arrest attempt on the party. I felt bad for railroading at this point, but I wasn't given much choice. The bard tried for a good 15 minutes, real time, to talk his way out of arrest. This was in spite of the repeated statements by the guards of, "Surrender or my 20 soldiers will attack." At one point, I should have had the soldiers just attack them and carry their battered bodies in front of the town magistrate, but I hadn't statted them out. Oh well.

The rest turned out similarly. The dungeon housing Mordan was pretty fun to build. Rather than have them search for traps and kill monsters, I searched out some logic/maze puzzles from the web and built them into the dungeon. The party had a rough time figuring them out, but they made it through and liked them quite a bit. There was a maze where you could only turn right or left at each intersection and a Theseus and the Minotaur maze. There was a third, but I can't recall it now and my notes are nowhere to be found.

The freeing of Mordan almost was a disaster, though. Shamus's guys freed him, then ran like the dickens. My guys released him, then sat in his chamber and argued about it for a long time. Even after I had their NPC run away, screaming in terror, they still sat and argued. It almost resulted in an in-character fight, as one of the players tried to introduce some background to his character. (A family killed by a lich in the past . . . do adventurers ever come from a normal, non-traumatic background?)

The Chase
At this point, things started to diverge from Shamus's campaign a bit. The party, running from the now free Lich King, fled south, all the way to a village named Tal Podere. Here is where the party started falling prey to attacks by Mordan's undead monsters. Shamus never said what the stats were for these monsters, as he custom made them. In the beginning, I just put a ghast out there and called it a gravewalker. Later on, I started upgrading them because the party was just tearing through them too quickly. Bigger claws, better armor and stats, and eventually a size increase made them pretty formidable.

This is also where the party finally regrouped with Oltean, the soldier they'd been chasing after since they landed on the island. It seemed like the players expected him to rise up and take control of the situation after the Queen's mind-control helmet was removed (If you're lost, I told you to read Shamus's stuff first!). He had no idea what was going on, so the players were left to decide where to go from here.

At this point, I should point out that I decided I'd have a little fun statting out Oltean's character. If you read the basics of the character at his website, you'd see that Shamus and Co. came up with a custom character class with a custom weapon. I thought it would be fun to try this thing out and see how it played. I chose to give him the 'vorpal' ability on his sword, just as a wild card. This will come back to haunt me.

I also started passing notes to the cleric when they slept. As the cleric held the lich's phylactery, she was having nightmares where the lich was trying to invade her mind or scare her into returning the phylactery. I used them to either induce paranoia or foreshadow coming events, but everything was colored with half-truths. I didn't find out until the campaign was over, but apparently we were a hair's width from the cleric attacking the rest of the party. I guess it worked.

The Diversion
After rescuing Oltean, we had a player absence, and a lack of a desire to skip a week, so I ended up with a great side quest. The cleric stayed behind in Tal Podere to take care of Oltean and learn some new spells while the bard, the fighter, and the NPC headed east to Sar Diga.

The players in Shamus's game never touched Sar Diga, so it was something of an empty space on the map I could work with. I had to figure out what kind of set-up would make sense for this place. There was a ferry that ran exclusively to it. It was a coastal city. I decided that it was a port town, though shut down because of the war, and a very wealthy one at that. It was going to be a center of black market trade on the island, but it never came up.

The party was lured out there by a call for musicians in the city. With the closing of the port, business was hurting in Sar Diga. The magistrate had decided that he would have a large party, with the dual goals of cheering up the local business leaders and hopefully getting some of the illicit business connections moving (again, this part didn't come up). The bard agreed to play at the party, and money was even provided for the rest of the party to attend. It was bizarre, though; the guys acted as though the party was going to be attended by ninjas out to get them. The party was to be held in the ballroom of a fancy hotel in the city. It even had a skylight and fire escapes, they were that wealthy. During the bard's intermission, a buxom blonde approached him and slipped him a note with a room number (coincidentally right next to the room they were staying in) on it. How could he pass it up?

After the party, the bard went up there to "meet her." Of course she was scantily clad, but before any shenanigans could go down, there was a pounding on the door. Into the room bursts a group of soldiers and the town magistrate, who just happened to be married to the buxom blonde. Oops. The bard, in a burst of inspiration, dives out the window onto the fire escape and torches the curtains on his way out, delaying any pursuit. He calls over for his comrades to join him, and they realize that the ladders leading to the ground for them were all destroyed. Up to the roof they went! There, they saw movement in the ballroom again, through the skylight. They went and saw the same blonde talking to some guy. It turns out he was the magistrate's assistant, and they were trying to get the magistrate killed so the assistant could take power. They figured the players would do the job when her husband busted in on the midnight rendezvous. Of course the players had to leap through the skylight to confront her. I totally intended for it to happen. I didn't intend for the fighter to fall flat on his face and nearly kill himself when he did it, but it was pretty amusing all the same.

Bard: Ah ha!
Beck: How dare you?!
Fighter: *Splat*

That fight was a challenge, but they still won. The woman went to jail, the assistant died, and the players were now owed a big favor from a city leader. They returned to Tal Podere for the cleric feeling pretty pleased with themselves.

By this time, Beck had racked up quite a bit of gold. The players were sharing the loot with him, and he wasn't spending anything so he could take care of his pregnant girlfriend when he made it home. On the way out to Sar Diga, the players (jokingly, I hope) talked about ambushing Beck and stealing all of his gold. It was a little unnerving, to say the least.

The Mine Riots
I included this part of Shamus's quest the first time the players entered the mining town (Della Minera). My players were not as clever as Shamus's; they decided to just kill all the gravewalkers in the mine and return for the reward. Afterwards, they realized that all the slaves were going back to work. They tried to then bargain for the slaves' freedom, but there was no way it was going to happen in that town, and they lost interest after they left.

The Big City
The players finally made their way to Fol Thron, the capitol of the southern part of the island. Unlike Shamus, I did end up including the encounter with the war criminal in the gibbet. My players not only freed the guy (to the protests of the bard), but gave him a horse to leave on as well. They were pretty steamed when the Queen told them about his crimes. They kept talking about tracking him down; I really should have turned that into another quest.

Fol Thron didn't have many differences from Shamus's group, with the exception of how I got them in to meet the crooked General. When they were in Tal Podere earlier, the party stopped an attack by gravewalkers during the night. After the long discussion with the city council about the whole affair, the party asked the town magistrate for a letter requesting audience with the Queen. He provided it, but couldn't guarantee that it would do anything for them.

When the players were ready to run out of the city without even trying to see the Queen, thinking she was in league with Mordan, or perhaps would try to kill them to steal the orb, I had Beck swipe the letter while they were doing other things. Beck ended up going through all of the bureaucratic shenanigans (behind the scenes, of course), but he brought them before General Tarvin.

Which was a mistake on my part. When that fight finally took place, our fighter blew his horn at the enemies, just as Shamus's players did. The difference was that the fighter then killed Tarvin in the next round. The wizard never cast a single spell. You'd be surprised how many of my fights turned out this way.

Taking down Noreeno
The Queen sends them on the same quest to kill Noreeno, with the party getting to the halfling village a day or so ahead of Noreeno. At first, the party seemed pretty content to ambush Noreeno on the road into town, which was fine by me; it would mean that they'd actually have a challenging fight with a wizard.

However, that changed when the party started squabbling over tactics. You see, the fighter wanted to dig a hole in the middle of the road and wait in it for Noreeno to come by, then leap out and slay him in one crazy blow. When I asked how he intended to get out of the hole, he said he'd dig stairs into it. When I told him that such a project would require quite a few hours of work, and probably some sort of Crafting skill check, he gave up on the plan in favor of just waiting in the brush by the road side.

The party didn't end up attacking Noreeno out in the wilderness; with his entourage of soldiers and other spell casters, they decided to try to ambush him in the village hotel. Which was a total disaster.

First, we had an extra player with us. This guy wanted to play a rogue, but couldn't commit to our regular sessions. He only showed up this one time. He ended up playing Oltean, but tried to play Oltean as a rogue. Oltean was a fighter in heavy armor. It wasn't good. I ignored certain things just to let him have some fun, but the strategies employed by the other players made that difficult.

This guy had Oltean climb up on the roof of the hotel, waiting for a signal to swing into a window and attack. Meanwhile, the players snuck up to the floor where Noreeno and crew were staying. The cleric cast Silence on the fighter, who was now a walking zone of absolute quiet. He then proceeded to walk into every hotel room unchallenged and slaughter everything within as it slept. Meanwhile, Oltean waited on the roof for a signal that never came.

I even tried to get one parting shot off at the players, including a letter in Noreeno's belongings that looked like a message for the Queen, but in reality was Explosive Runes for anyone who killed him enroute. They didn't fall for it, sadly.

In an amusing twist, the party had decided that they needed to bury Noreeno in his entirety, not just his ring. I had them attacked by gravewalkers while they did it, which resulted in a chase where they fled from dozens of the things back across the river to Fol Thron. Probably a pretty heavy dose of railroading, but I think if I'd left them to their own devices they wouldn't have known what to do next.

Southward Bound
The players ended up heading to the southermost cities on the island in search of the lost Prince Garrett; first to Telwin Port, then to Washport. They wanted to find the Magus Archives, but didn't really know why apart from "possible clues" that it could provide. My players, just like Shamus's, simply paid bail for the guy and left town. The bard ordered a fancy, undead killing bow before leaving, expecting it to be delivered to Washport in a week.

In Washport, the players encountered a mob-like group of anti-adventurers who had shut down the town's magic industry, hoarding it for themselves. They made their rounds each day, collecting "protection" payments from every shopkeeper, but wouldn't allow anyone to sell anything remotely magical (scrolls, potions, etc.). This would become the most frustrating part of the adventure for me.

My players tried to confront them in the crowded market streets as they first rolled into town, but the mob played it ignorant and cool and just walked away from them. They went to a tavern that night, and a halfling fighter from the group was in there. He was quite drunk, and decided to start flapping his mouth off at the party when he saw them. "You guys think you're *hic* heroes, do ya! Ha! We own this town. Just try to touch us, just try it!" At that point, in the middle of a crowded tavern, the fighter and the cleric pull out their weapons and attack the unarmed halfling.

The halfling escaped and then gathered his cohorts (five in total). The leader of the group challenged the party to a one-on-one duel; if their champion could handle the mob's champion, they'd leave town and never bother Washport again. If not, then the players had to shut up and get out themselves. The dwarven fighter of the party decided on a duel with the dwarven barbarian in the mob.

Here is where I regretted not being more careful with the magic items I'd given the party. After the barbarian had the fighter on the ropes, the player pulled out that magic horn I'd given him and started blowing on it. Over and over and over. He did this, healing himself up in between blows with potions, while the barbarian just sat there stunned. I was flabbergasted at this tactic; so much so that I let the player get away with taking far too many actions each round. After healing back to full health, he knocked the barbarian out, and the cleric told him to finish the job. The mob was just going to knock them out, it wasn't going to kill them. I ended up having the rest of the mob attack. This went badly, too.

I had one of the mobsters statted out as a werebear, exactly as seen in the Monster Manual. Nobody had silver weapons; I figured this fight would be extremely challenging for them. This was not to be. Remember that vorpal sword I'd given the party NPC? Yeah, first blow out of the gate, he chops the head off of the werebear. The fight ended soon thereafter.

The entire thing was frustrating for me because, in giving my players all these goodies, I was making it impossible to challenge them appropriately. They were waltzing through all of my encounters. Lessons learned, I supposed, and after that fight I retooled that magic horn to be much less game-breaking.

Heading for the Mountains
As the players headed out to the Magus Archives and Mount Khelberg, I had a surprise for them. In the wilderness, they were ambushed by a red dragon. This was supposed to be a challenging fight for them, as the monster would blow fire at them, then hide while waiting for his breath weapon to be ready again.

Sadly, this wasn't meant to be, either. At one point, the dwarven fighter dropped his magic axe and grabbed a bow. With it sitting there, gleaming on the ground, the dragon couldn't resist and flew over to pick it up. Guess what? Their NPC with the vorpal sword walks over and chops the thing's head off before it can fly away. What was supposed to be their most challenging fight was the shortest one to that point in the campaign.

I was crushed, but this taught me quite a few lessons: Don't get attached to your encounters, don't give your players overwhelmingly powerful magic items, don't be surprised when things go awry, allow your players to do cool things, etc.

Anyhow, the players eventually made it to the Magus Archives. Once again, I have to thank Shamus for his descriptive details in these things. Inside, Shamus placed a statue that was clearly trapped by the mages for anyone who would break in later. So, I described a few trinkets on there, knowing what horrors they would unleash on the player greedy enough to take them. The party fighter, knowing the cleric could simply prepare "Remove Curse," grabbed all five cursed items on the statue. As amusing as these things were, it rather dulled their effect that it was just a bit of a laugh for them, rather than something to be feared and avoided.

Freeing Fiore, and on to The End
The players freed Fiore, just as Shamus's did, though I think I railroaded them into tossing Mordan's phylactery into the box. I'm not very good and giving subtle clues, and the players aren't good at taking them. I didn't want the campaign to drag on the way Shamus theorized it could have had this solution not been taken, and I don't think the players did either. It turned out to be for the best.

The explosion of the mountain was also the culmination of the cursed axe sidequest. When a lava channel opened up in the Chasm of the Dead, the elven cleric tossed the axe in , LoTR style, and the curse was lifted. Bonus XP all around!

From this point onward, the campaign played out almost exactly as Shamus's did. The dwarves attacked while the players were in the wilderness, but they completely demolished Telwin Port. Without Beck there to rally the defenses (he stuck with the party the entire game), the city just wasn't able to survive. The party met with the dwarves and convinced them to join with the Queen to defeat Mordan. They then helped the Queen's men defend the bridge for a night.

Actually, that deserves some mention, because it was a very fun battle. I gave Beck the ability to man a catapult the way Shamus did, which worked out to be a good use for him. Each of the players were also given control of three low-level grunts with a sword and a bow; this would give them options, since the cleric tended to just sit in the back and buff/heal, while the bard tended to just sit in the back and buff. This also saved them from being overwhelmed by the large number of gravewalkers I threw at the party. I only used two waves, but it was an exciting battle all the same.

The party then went north and killed Mordan. The only major change here was in the "rescuing party," the army that kept Mordan occupied in the north. In Shamus's game, it was a powerful NPC from a previous campaign. Since my players didn't have that past to call upon, I had Oltean's people finally show up to rescue him. There was some post-adventure awkwardness to work out with this solution, but it settled things enough for me.

That's about everything I can recall from the entire affair. Questions and comments are welcome, as I'm betting there are details I left out. Looking at the size of the post, though, I doubt it.