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Topics - Jubal

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Amusing little extract from an upcoming XKCD book, in which they got one of the world's greatest tennis players to see how well she could fend off a drone invasion. Answer, better than expected :)

https://blog.xkcd.com/2019/08/16/serena-versus-the-drones/

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The Town Crier! Announcements! / Fringe Planet Kickstarter is Go!
« on: August 13, 2019, 06:08:25 PM »
Fringe Planet - The Kickstarter!


The Fringe Planet kickstarter is happening! As of today, you have 30 days to go and back Beebug Nic's horror-themed block-based game set on a floating rock in the dark void of ethereal space. On this strange frozen world, a small band of peons will struggle for existence. They may not make it through the trials that their harsh and barren existence throws at them - but those that do will learn to harvest and live alongside the nightmarish spirits that inhabit the void alongside them, and grow stronger - and, just maybe, discover something of the lore of their new home and the secrets of their own past!

As the player, you must shepherd your peons through their attempts at survival, building new constructs, protecting them from the horrors of the void, and hopefully not having them go too mad... click the image link below to see the kickstarter campaign and back the game, with rewards including the game soundtrack, the ability to name and provide backstory details for peons, and at higher backing levels even to design creatures for the game!



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Exilian Articles / Exilian Interviews: Eric Matyas!
« on: August 08, 2019, 04:47:53 PM »
A Conversation With: Eric Matyas!
Your Interviewer: Jubal


Eric Matyas is a long-standing Exilian member best known as founder of SoundImage, a website that provides a free to use archive of thousands of music files, images, and sound effect clips for use in games and other projects. We sent Jubal deep into the heart of SoundImage's archives to find Eric and ask him about how this huge library got started, some of the things that have happened on his journey since, and his thoughts on the future... read on!


Jubal: Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into producing sounds and images for people to use.

Eric: I’m really an indie filmmaker at heart…one of my goals is to make my own sci-fi and fantasy films (and for them to actually be good…lol)…but I’ve been playing piano and creating music compositions since I was a kid. I got my first synthesizer, a Korg Triton, quite a few years ago and was interested in maybe making ambient albums although I had no idea how to go about it. So I concentrated on learning the synth, mostly by trial and error since there wasn’t much online help available, and I started recording some few pieces which sat on my hard drive for a long time. Then the DSLR revolution hit…indie filmmakers could finally obtain really good images in a way that was cost effective…so I borrowed a friend’s camera and started making nature documentaries. I had never tried scoring any of my own films so I looked around online for royalty-free music and discovered Kevin MacLeod’s site where he allows people to use his tracks for free with attribution. I thought, “What a great idea…I wonder if I could do this?” I contacted Kevin with some questions and he was very encouraging, so I decided to give it a try.
 
I didn’t know anything about making a website, especially not one for sharing music files, but I found an article in which another musician recommended creating a WordPress site. He mentioned that google likes WordPress sites so I thought maybe that would make it easier for people to find my music.

The site didn’t get much traffic at first, so I joined some forums for indie filmmakers and began posting weekly announcements as I released new tracks. Then, somehow, indie game developers began to find my site and use my work. They started sending me links to their finished games and writing to thank me for making my music available. That’s when I realized that there was a larger audience for this than indie filmmakers. Today, most of the people who use my tracks are indie game developers and they are a great community to be involved with.

As for the images, I’ve been slowly teaching myself 3D modeling and animation for several years and texture images are a big part of that so I started creating them on my own. Once the game developers found me, I thought that these images might be helpful as well so I began expanding the site to include them. They’re really meant to be building blocks rather than finished textures. 


The SoundImage homepage.
Jubal: On your about page, you say that you're a great believer in the "democratization of media". Can you tell us a bit more about that, and the vision behind SoundImage as a site?

Eric: The vision of Soundimage has always been to make good-sounding music and other assets available to anyone regardless of their budget. Call me an idealist, but I think anyone should be able to produce quality creative work, connect with an audience and be paid for their efforts without having to raise enormous amounts of money to do so. Here in the U.S., popular media is controlled by a handful of mega corporations which, in my opinion, severely limits the range of content that’s available for consumers. On a more philosophical level, we face many daunting problems as a species and I think the world needs more creative problem-solvers so I support anyone who is doing creative work.
 
Jubal: Did you have any idea when you started how big an archive the site was going to end up with?

Eric: I started the site with 100 tracks and tried to add one new track every day. I had looked at Kevin’s site which had over 1000 tracks at the time and it really blew my mind so I decided to try to work toward that. Then I started adding other things, like texture images, and the site grew pretty rapidly. I think it’s getting a bit out of control now… lol!

Jubal: Have you had any problems with capacity or hosting costs as the site has grown?

Eric: Not really. My hosting service doesn’t limit the number of files I can upload, but they do restrict the file sizes. That’s why my music tracks are in MP3 format…the original WAV files are usually too large. 

Jubal: What's your favourite track you've composed, and why?

Eric: I don’t really have a favorite, per se, but I like “Stratosphere” from my Aerial/Drone page a lot. I thought it came out really well.

Jubal: ...and what's the most surprising use you've seen someone put SoundImage's files to?

Eric: I don’t know about surprising, but one of the projects I’ve seen that I feel the very proud about is a documentary about a struggling wildlife rehabilitation center in South Africa. Here’s a link if anyone is interested:


Jubal: What other projects have you become involved in via SoundImage - have there been any particular highlights or failures of those?

Eric: Well, more and more indie game developers are hiring me to create custom music and sound effects for them because I can do it so affordably. The synthesizers I use (there are 3 of them now) are built for rapid music creation so tracks that might take days to create can be done in a matter of hours. In that sense, I guess the website is like a giant demo reel.

I’m very passionate about science, so I’ve been combining that with my love of filmmaking and creating short films that teach kids environmental stewardship in a fun way through stories and characters rather than as informational documentaries. In essence, I’m taking learning concepts and building stories around them that kids can relate to. I’ve done seven films so far and am working on two more this fall. The organization I made them for uses them all the time with visitors, but schools have started using the films in their classrooms as well which is really cool too. One school district even put together a team of educators and created their own curriculum based on the films. So now I’m working on creating my own activities and things to share with the rest of the world. Eventually I’d like to create software and make the whole thing an interactive learning world. It’s all experimental at this point so it will be interesting to see where it leads, if anywhere, but I love the idea that the films can be used for years and years rather than being watched once and forgotten.


Three out of the many texture and image files found on SoundImage.
Jubal: Smaller creators continually worry about things from a financial perspective, and your work is very much part of that scene. Do you worry, though, that free repositories like yours mean fewer opportunities for smaller scale paid texture artists or composers?

Eric: As I said, I do paid tracks as well, at pretty low cost, so I’m one of those smaller-scale paid composers. Do my free tracks take business away from my paid work? I honestly don’t know, but a lot of folks who use my free assets seem to be indie game developers and filmmakers who are learning or just starting out…often one or two-person teams…and original custom assets can be prohibitively expensive for them…especially music. The current going-rate for custom music (I am told) is $100 per finished minute of music which, in my opinion, just isn’t doable for a lot of people. I certainly couldn’t afford it for my films. I’m not saying that composers shouldn’t be properly compensated…they absolutely should…but content creators who are just starting out probably can’t afford them anyway, so I don’t see free music as taking away business. Looking to the future, I imagine there will always be people who will opt for free assets as well as those who will raise the necessary funds to pay for them. 

Jubal: SoundImage has its own license which is a variant on a creative commons license - was it difficult for you to produce that, and what would you advise to anyone who might want to produce similar open-with-restrictions type licenses for their work.

Eric: My license was very easy to create because it was identical to the creative commons license…I simply added a restriction that prohibits my music and such from being used in works that are obscene or pornographic in nature. I think that anyone considering doing something like this should think about situations in which they don’t want their work being used and be very clear about it.

Jubal: Do you think there's space for SoundImage's model to be used more widely and for more photographers and composers to start open media archives like yours? Do you think there'd be any scale issues if many more people tried to do so?

Eric: I think sharing assets is a great way to network with creative people. As for scale issues, I really don’t know, but the internet is a pretty big place so I would hope that there’s room for everyone.

One of Eric's tracks, Still of Night, from his Urban collection.


Jubal: Finally, any upcoming plans for SoundImage - what can we look forward to seeing more of?

Eric: Besides using my music in their games, developers have written to me and said they enjoy listening to my tracks while they work on their projects. Some have even said that my music inspired them or gave them ideas for games which is great. With that in mind, I may put together some albums and make them available for a small fee. I’ve also had requests for the original super high quality WAV recordings of my tracks, so I’m looking at doing something similar with those as well. If you think the MP3 tracks sound good, wait until you hear the original WAV versions!

As I said, I’m really a filmmaker at heart and shooting footage is something I love to do… whether it’s for my own films or just to explore the world through my lens…so I’d like to see if there might be a need for that. I’ve visited some stock footage sites while working on my own projects and the prices seem pretty prohibitive so perhaps that’s something I can help with in a way that’s actually affordable.

On the graphics side of things, I’ve started experimenting with other kinds of game art besides textures…backgrounds and sprite objects mostly…but I’m always trying to find out what kinds of things might be useful to the community. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

Jubal: It's been great talking to you! Thanks for doing this and best of luck with everything in SoundImage's future.

Eric: Thanks for having me on your website…I sincerely hope that some of my work is helpful to everyone. Keep being creative! 





Eric Matyas' work is free to use with attribution in both commercial and non-commercial projects: non-attribution licenses can also be purchased. You can get updates on new work from Eric via his forum threads for music/sound effects, textures, and game art, or via his twitter @EricMatyas. We hope you enjoyed this interview, and do stay tuned for more interviews and other articles in the near future!

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The Boozer / Stories and histories: A Trip to Tbilisi
« on: August 04, 2019, 05:10:55 PM »
Stories and Histories: A Visit to Tbilisi


It is said, in the folklore of Georgia, that when the lands of the earth were divided out to the different peoples, each came and received their appropriate allotment of land from God. Just one group were missing, and God found them resting under a tree, forgotten, some time after he had apportioned all the remaining lands. Naturally, he asked them who they were and why they had failed to come. They told him that they were the Kartvelians, and that they had set out, but first seen a river, and stopped by it drank a toast to it for giving water and life; then, they had passed a mountain, and stopped, and drank a toast to it for its strength and beauty. Finally, they had kept walking, but it was hot, and they found a walnut tree, and drank a toast to it for giving them shade and food. For their appreciation of the natural world, God found a mountainous area, small but beautiful, that he had been saving as a garden for himself, and gave it to them to care for – and so Sakartvelo, the land of the Kartvelians (known as Georgia to outsiders), came into being. At its centre, Tbilisi – the city’s name is rooted in the Georgian word for warmth, a reference probably to hot springs nearby – has been one of the cultural hearts of the Caucasus for centuries. Like in many cultures, the springs of Tbilisi were said to have had healing properties, and there are still bath-houses near the old town. The myth of the city’s founding is that Vakhtang Gorgasali was out hunting and either shot a deer which jumped into the spring or saw a falcon drop a pheasant into the spring, depending on the version. Either way, the animal is said to have emerged unharmed, and the impressed king marked the site out for a new city – a city and a country and a bundle of stories and subsequent histories in which, some millennium and a half later, an aeroplane landed. It was carrying, among other things, me.


Part of the manuscript centre's collections.
This trip to Tbilisi was my first and rather belated visit to Georgia, the country whose history I had been studying for two years and whose language I had recently gained a basic grasp of, and I was undeniably nervous as our plane rattled in the late evening through turbulence and down into Tbilisi airport. It was not perhaps the most auspicious of arrivals – exhausted, late at night, with a taxi driver I was fully aware was overcharging me and then the discovery that I would in fact be sharing a hotel room and had not been told this in advance by the organisers of the event I was at. That said, being overcharged in Tbilisi still feels reasonably priced for a resident of Vienna like myself; the exchange rate is very good for European tourists. Exhausted, I settled down for the night, with the Georgian stories I had been reading on the plane still rattling around in my head.

Once the morning arrived, it was time to turn my thoughts to more concrete histories and begin the summer school programme I had come here for, which lasted eight days with a two day conference at the end. To transcribe all of the details would be to write a textbook on Georgian manuscripts rather than a travelogue, but suffice to say that the range and detail were both impressive and useful. It was hard work – I have noticeable difficulties coping with having too many simultaneous streams of sound input, so listening to lectures in simultaneous translation through long days was tiring – but it was undoubtedly worthwhile. With me were an impressively diverse cast of characters, from an American former nun who’d at one point undergone an exorcism and later single-handedly canonised nearly a hundred women, to a larger-than-life Circassian independence activist who’d spent time being brutally treated in a Russian jail for his politics. The Caucasus is a land of contradictions, divisions, and eclectic diversity – perhaps most of all, a land of mixed and complex stories – and this seems to be reflected in those who are drawn towards it.

The Georgian alphabet’s earliest attestation is from the fifth century AD, with the earliest records of the old Asomtavruli script being found in Palestine rather than Georgia itself, likely thanks to its origination in already widespread Georgian monastic communities. Two further script variants were developed over subsequent centuries, the Nushkuri manuscript hand largely used for religious texts and the secular chancery script of Mkhedruli which is still used as the main secular Georgian alphabet today. The long history of manuscript books is dominated in its earlier parts by religious texts of various kinds, with translations of Greek philosophy and eventually Persian-influenced courtly romances becoming more prominent by the twelfth century period which I study, culminating in Vepkhist’q’aosani, the Knight in Panther Skin, which the Georgians to this day regard as one of the greatest literary works in their language. We had closer encounters with the Georgian script than expected during the course thanks to the tutelage of calligrapher Davit Maisuradze, who gave us a number of classes on ink-pen style Georgian calligraphy, which I have to say was unexpectedly useful especially in its explanations of Georgian mkhedruli ligatures – classical Georgian handwriting is a rather different beast to the modern script.


Georgian khinkali, salad, and wine at Cafe 38, Betlemi Street.
During the course itself there were only scraps of evening time with which to explore Tbilisi – often the evenings really only afforded much chance to explore the Old Town’s selection of restaurants, though I did manage to wander the streets a bit and at one point got up to the Nariq’ala fortress to take some panoramas of the city. Georgian cuisine is definitely very distinctive from others I’ve tried, and even before I arrived (since Vienna does at least have Georgian restaurants, and since I’d made my own varyingly successful attempts at making everything from khachapuri to pelamushi myself) it was one of my favourites. Wine is the pre-eminent drink – amusingly, the word for it is even an irregularly declined noun in Georgian – and both reds and whites are available, including many made with the traditional kvevri process in which the juice, pulp, and stems are all left in large earthenware jars to undergo natural fermentation. This gives a very distinctive flavour, and in some cases colour, to the resulting wine. For soft drinks, lemonades are common, especially herbal lemonades with for example basil added, or even more commonly tarragon. Processed commercial tarragon lemonades are a popular soft drink in Georgia (one I have to say I actually quite like the taste of), and these are usually coloured with distinctive emerald green food colouring.

As for food, the broad category of khachapuri covers a wide range of breads with cheese baked into them, usually sulguni – a cow cheese prepared in brine, with a distinctive slightly salty flavour. The most common of these, from the respective regions of Imereti, Samegrelo, and Adjara are the imeruli, a flatbread with cheese in the middle, the megruli, similar but with a second layer of cheese baked over the top, and the acharuli, a distinctive boat shape with cheese in the middle, usually served with an egg fried on top. The other dish to specifically note are khinkali, the Georgian filled dumplings: these are traditionally eaten by holding the knob on the top, without cutlery, something I have just about trained myself to do though the often juicy fillings of meat khinkali do present something of a challenge to the newcomer in this particular art. Other common dishes include aubergine with walnut paste, which is lovely, Georgian salads (typically tomato, cucumber, and onion with a walnut oil dressing), some cornbreads, and a number of meat dishes including kebab style skewers and shkmeruli garlic chicken.


Tsughrughasheni, prettier than it is pronounceable.
If Tbilisi outside its restaurant doors was left partly unexplored, this was counterbalanced by us going on several excursions outside the city. The first of these was to Bolnisi, in lower (kvemo) Kartli, the province that runs to the south of Tbilisi. Kvemo Kartli is nearly forty percent Muslim due to the large ethnic Azeri population in the south of the region. It is also, among other things, the only region of Georgia to have records of porcupines (which have one of my favourite names in Georgian, mach’vzgharba, roughly translatable as “badger hedgehog”). Of course none were obvious on our visit there, but the fifth century basilica church at Bolnisi, which mostly fell down and was substantially reconstructed in the twentieth century, was well worth going to see, with numerous extremely old inscriptions (the oldest asomtavruli inscriptions can be noted because many of the loops in the letters are more closed in the oldest variants of that script). The church additionally played host to a very large population of tree sparrows appearing and disappearing from the walls, and one large raptor overhead which unfortunately disappeared before I could identify it. We stopped for lunch at an as yet unopened fish restaurant where the proprietor was happy to let us use the tables, and then continued uphill to the monastery church of Tsughrughasheni, not the kindest of names for non-Georgians to pronounce but nonetheless a beautiful example of thirteenth century decorated Georgian architecture.

Our second trip took us west, first to the basilica church at Urbnisi, equal or perhaps older in age than Bolnisi though itself the subject of many renovations. The roads here are modern highways with roadside stops that sell Wendy’s burgers alongside tarragon lemonade – but they also stubbornly display signage to places in the separatist occupied regions, and government-constructed settlements for the largely ethnic Georgian groups expelled from South Ossetia can be seen from the roadside. The Russian-dominated separatist regions are a raw wound from Georgia’s perspective; South Ossetia in particular forms what is in effect a permanent hostile beach-head for the Russian army in the country, a constant geopolitical source of instability that in practice is disturbingly close to Tbilisi. A bitter legacy and cycle of violent flare-ups since the 1990s, when Georgia’s first wave of post-Soviet nationalism clashed forcibly with the regional autonomy demanded by some of its minority groups, has led to widespread displacement of people pushed out on both sides of the conflict over time, and Tbilisi as a result now plays host to a wide range of “in exile” institutions from both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian influence tended to progressively expand over the separatist regions over time, especially after the 1990s once the Putin regime was established, and Georgia’s official position after the 2008 conflict is now that they count as being militarily occupied by Russia. It must suffice here to say that whatever the nuances of the past they have emerged from, the human tragedies and political instabilities of these frozen conflict zones exist very prominently in the present, and their impacts on residents on either side of the dividing borders show no sign of abating.


A valley near Ateni, in central Georgia.
After Urbnisi we headed up southwards into the mountains, passing south through Stalin’s birthplace in Gori, which retains a somewhat uncritical Soviet era museum where something little short of a temple was built over the house he grew up in. We did not stop, however, because further south we were headed for Ateni, a beautiful monastery with spectacular mountain views. Excitingly for me, these included several wall paintings of medieval monarchs, notably David the Builder, great-grandfather of Queen Tamar whose court has formed the main focus of my research so far. On the outside of the church, more curiously, there was a very wide range of graffiti including a large number of depictions of horses and deer (with many being so rudimentary that it was hard to tell which was which). There were some quadrupeds in the outer decoration as well, but the story behind these scratched depictions was far from clear; we were seeing the memory of a story, without the story itself.

Leaving Ateni was somewhat slower a process than anticipated for, when we went to go and look at some very cute dogs, we stumbled upon an ongoing supra, a traditional Georgian feast, and were obliged to make at least two toasts by our very friendly accidental hosts before we got back to our bus. The supra is a strong Georgian tradition, and indeed earlier the same day our translator, Lado, had given us an introduction to Georgian toasting culture, in which we were further instructed at the supra feast at the end of the conference. Toasting culture – the fact that in Georgia the tradition is to drink only when toasting, with a tamada (toastmaster) selected or elected to propose the toasts and thereby set the drinking pace – was something I’d been aware of well before my trip, but it was definitely a different and very worthwhile experience to be in the middle of it. As for myself, I proposed two toasts – one in the valley near Ateni to departed colleagues, remembering my own former supervisor Ruth who died suddenly earlier this year, and one at the banquet to four difficult friends that many of us were trying to get along better with – Mkhedruli, Asomtavruli, Nushkuri, and the Georgian language!


Svetitskhoveli, the Cathedral of the Living Pillar, seen from the Holy Cross monastery.
The final day of the summer school programme before our two day conference began included a trip to Mtskheta, once a Georgian capital city and today one of the country’s most important religious centres. The holy cross monastery overlooking the city was our first stop, with a cluster of shacks selling food and goods outside the ancient structure following in what one imagines must be a long tradition of hangers-on seeking to make their living outside places of wonder and pilgrimage. The views that the wind-blown (indeed, on one side, heavily wind damaged) monastery affords of the valley are striking, especially the view down to Mtskheta itself. After – to my eternal surprise – being given a prize certificate for good Mkhedruli calligraphy, we then piled back into the bus (after having to send our resident priest out to find a lost lamb from the flock), and headed down to Mtskheta.

If the holy cross monastery had a ramshackle collection of hanger-on shops, Mtskheta had an industry. Well kept, neatly built streets were rammed with sellers of food, wine, and souvenirs. I managed to resist the temptation of a drinking horn, this time at least – I do already own one after all – and we passed the offer of horse & cart trips to get to Mtskheta’s real centre, the cathedral. According to legend, the tunic of Jesus Christ is buried under it – brought back from the crucifixion by a Georgian Jew called Elias, and given to his sister Sidonia who died holding it: it was impossible to remove from her grasp, and so she was buried with it. The tree that grew over her grave was the foundation for Georgia’s convertor St. Nino to much later build a church there, and one of the seven pillars she cut from it had magical life-giving properties – hence the cathedral’s name of Svetitskhoveli, the Living Pillar. The present church is eleventh century though with many layers of reconstruction, and it’s an immensely impressive sight. Huge numbers of house martens live around the spire and were floating around it like an amorphous, moving crown as we arrived: its outer walls are mostly fairly recent but contain some surviving twelfth century buttresses and other elements in places. Inside, what can best be described as a giant stone reliquary stands over the supposed spot of Sidonia’s burial, with grave markers for a number of the later Georgian monarchs (and for several older ones such as the much-mythologised Vakhtang Gorgasali, though these may in some cases be more memorials than marking actual grave sites).

Once the conference was over, I was feeling unwell for most of the latter part of the trip, but resolved to do my best to explore Tbilisi anyway. I moved from the Kalasi hotel to an Airbnb on Betlemi Street, which provided a reasonably inexpensive and central base from which to look round. The upper parts of the Old Town include some steep slopes and steps, better navigated on foot than with a vehicle, but are very pretty and provide nice views over the city and up to the fortress and the dominant Soviet era “Mother of Kartli” statue that stands watch, wine bowl and sword at the ready, over the city. The fortress area consists essentially of two levels, with the upper level lacking a particularly good path up to it: in the lower section, the wall walks are reconstructed in a lot of places and can be walked along without too much difficulty, and the fortress’ church, its one fully restored building, forms a nice centrepiece. The whole setup is probably most of interest for the spectacular panoramic views it offers, especially as there is little by way of historical signage and explanation offered, though the walls are in and of themselves impressive to look at as well as look out from.


A laughing dove - Tbilisi is at the northwest edge of their range.
Observing the city’s inhabitants and its other tourists and why they seemed to be there was an interesting pastime. The streets of the old town are packed with cars, doves, feral dogs and cats, and tourists. In general, it is hard not to conclude that Tbilisi has a car problem, with most streets heavily lined with vehicles for hire and the roads often slow and belching exhaust fumes, and a decrease in vehicles in the old town would make the streets feel rather more pleasant and less crowded. In the long term, the more difficult issue is that Georgia’s major east-west highway routes pass directly through the centre of the city, but thanks to the valley-bottom nature of the place any idea of re-routing them would be difficult. The feral and wild animals meanwhile are generally delightful, with the dogs usually carrying bright yellow ear tags to show that they have received some basic level of veterinary attention. The city has some rock doves of the sort familiar as city pigeons in any European city, but there is also a large population of laughing doves, a species that was new to me (and, surprisingly, confusing to some Georgians I talked to, none of whom appeared to linguistically distinguish between it and the turtle dove – whilst I’ve not found detailed information on the history of the species, it’s possible that this lack of a native Georgian word implies it’s a comparative newcomer in the Caucasus, and indeed the core of its native range is much further south).

The tourists, probably now the lifeblood of the city’s economy, are a mix of western European, American, Russian and middle-Eastern, and often there for quite different reasons. The potentially inexpensive nature of Georgian holidays and the apparently famed quality of its nightlife (shockingly enough, dear reader, I did not attempt to investigate) are perhaps more of a likely draw for Russians who can drive there than it is for those who come at greater expense from further afield attracted by Georgian wine, culture, or wildlife, though this is clearly by no means universal on either side. The middle-Eastern, mostly Arab, tourists meanwhile are a very different set. One of Georgia’s largest selling points for them is that it’s the only country that permits legal gambling in the entire region, and apparently many of them come to do just that, drink alcohol, eat pork, and generally take a “what happens in Georgia stays in Georgia” attitude to life for a while. One couldn’t help note that this attitude seemed to be largely taken by men and not extended to their families: a gaggle of veiled women following a sunglasses-toting middle aged Arab man dressed not unlike any of the western European tourists himself was a jarring but not uncommon sight whilst I was there.


Underground shops selling fruit and churchkhela.
Down in the city itself, I was finally able to get beyond the old town a bit, though my explorations did not take me much further than Rustaveli Avenue and the area between it and the river. Numerous markets are bundled into the streets, often second hand, or specialist such as the flower market I found at one point or the clusters of book-sellers, usually hawking mid twentieth century volumes in Russian or different editions of the Knight in Panther Skin alongside a small eclectic assemblage of other titles. The subways to walk under the city’s major roads are stuffed with tiny shops as well, selling fruit, shoes, sunglasses, and just about anything else one could think of. I was able to enjoy a number more eateries as well, especially Café Leila in the Old Town which had a good vegetarian selection and which I particularly liked for its herbal lemonades and its wall decoration, mostly comprising figures from one of the early modern Knight In Panther skin manuscripts, and Seidabadi on Gorgasali Square where I was generously hosted by a friend’s father one evening and was able to watch some Georgian music and dancing alongside some very good food and wine.

Rustaveli Avenue itself includes a number of attractions, including the very good book/coffee shop of Prospero’s Books, the rather beautiful opera house, and the parliament building, outside which a sleepy protest camp could still be seen – protests have been ongoing in Tbilisi for some time, largely calling for the resignation of the interior minister who presided over an excessive police response to an earlier protest that left some people with lost eyes; the symbol of an eyepatch, or covering one eye with a hand, has become a rallying icon for the protest movement, which tends to be backed by younger and more pro-European Georgians in particular. Georgian pro-European sentiment is loudly on display, and I don’t think I’ve seen a city in the EU that flies the EU flag quite so much as Georgia aspirationally chooses to. The need for stronger European trade integration to help diversify the Georgian economy, and western support as a counterweight to the ever-felt fear of Russia, are both clear psychological drivers behind this process, but its heavy public manifestation, backed up by a public perception of history that very heavily stresses and investigates Georgia’s western connections, is interesting nonetheless and highlights one of the difficulties in Georgia’s ongoing debates about its identity as a country.


Inside a traditional east Georgian house, buried into a hillside.
Of course, being myself, I also found time for some more museums, including a kind invitation to the Ethnographic and National Museums (the latter being another of the features of Rustaveli Avenue). The former, which one of the staff kindly gave me a tour of, is essentially a village of transplanted houses from different areas of Georgia, among pleasant hilltop scrub terrain where butterflies and reptiles can be found. The houses are in an impressive range of styles and display a range of environmental and situational adaptations – reflecting practices such as the fact that west Georgian kvevri are typically buried outdoors whereas east Georgian ones are buried in a building, thanks to the far harsher winter climate in the east which can crack the jars. The east Georgian houses with earth-covered roofs and high octagonal cones leading up to a skylight window beneath them were a particularly interesting sight, especially with their tiny (stooping height) doors which may have been a past adaptation to the threat of raids. These houses often had escape tunnels at the back, too, to allow family members to get out in the event of trouble. Georgian adaptation at times needed to take into account not just the physical landscape but the human geography around them.

The National Museum meanwhile is also well worth a look, with galleries on everything from ancient metalworking to natural history. The prehistoric Trialeti culture goldwork on display, especially one particularly famous goblet, is particularly beautiful and the glimpse into Georgia’s long prehistory of artefacts and metallurgy is worth going for. The museum also contains the Soviet occupation gallery, which felt to me less like a historical exhibit and more like the Georgian intelligentsia’s memorial to their own losses, covering the Russian destruction of the nascent westward-facing social democratic Georgian republic in 1921 and picking up the subsequent thread of pro-democracy underground organising and undermining of the Soviet state. Georgia’s numerous Soviet communists are notable for their absence – Stalin, the most famous of them, is mentioned just once in the exhibition, and that for having died. It is half a story, told truly with passion and grief – another thread in a tapestry of overlapping, occasionally contradictory, but nonetheless powerfully real stories that, together, make Georgia.


Chuniri and Changi, traditional Georgian stringed instruments.
The last museum I reached in Tbilisi was the folk music museum, for which I was fortunate enough to have company in the form of Nutsa, friend I had managed to make rather randomly via Facebook. As a rather amateurish folk musician in my own right I was duly fascinated. Like in numerous places in Tbilisi, the ticket was low cost but a tour was really required to understand the exhibits. These included traditional Georgian bagpipes, drums, harps (changi), and other stringed instruments including the strummed panduri and the bowed banjo-like chuniri. This last is said to have been attributed various mystical properties in the mountain regions of Georgia, being used in healing ceremonies among other things. The museum also has an impressive collection of nineteenth and twentieth century crank-organs and other clockwork musical boxes, which the guide will happily demonstrate for you.

Tbilisi’s status as a centre of specifically Georgian culture is an interesting one – it has long been the Georgian capital, but it has far less often been a majority Georgian city in cultural terms. The modern city in which ninety percent of the population consider themselves ethnically Georgian is the result of rapid urbanisation and in historical terms may be almost an aberration: in 1801, Tbilisi was probably majority Armenian by a significant margin, with Georgians only becoming the largest of the city's ethnic groups in the 1920s and forming over half of Tbilisi's total residents only from the 1960s or 1970s onwards. It seems likely that similar shifts and diversity have long been part of the city’s history; in the period that I study, it had only ceased to be an independent emirate a few decades earlier, and it seems very likely that there would still have been a sizeable percentage of Muslims in the city in the later twelfth century. Jewish communities among others (Yazidi, Ukrainian, German, Russian) have had long histories in the city too; the aforementioned Seidabad restaurant is named for an historic name of the district, which was at one point the Persian part of the city. The Jewish museum of Tbilisi is one of the highest ones on my list that I didn’t get to on this visit – another time, perhaps.


The lush valley of Tbilisi's botanical garden.
Beyond the museums, and beyond the main valley of Tbilisi, there was one other jewel of those last days in the city: the botanical gardens, whose tree-covered slopes I had looked down on from the fortress a while previously. Entrance to the gardens is cheap, and they are large enough that even a casual walker can happily spend half a day in them, filling more or less an entire valley south of Tbilisi proper. A road from the entrance leads to a beautifully picturesque waterfall which is something of a tourist trap and seemed to consistently be surrounded by a gaggle of observers, but climbing the steps round above it led to hillsides full of trees and no small amount of wildlife. As well as sections for the flora of different parts of Georgia there are flower areas, a small Japanese garden, a large Mediterranean section, and other areas including a section on rare crops of Georgia which I didn’t manage to reach. Much of the garden takes quite some walking to reach, though there did seem to be vehicle rides available to many parts of it as well. If from stone-bound Tbilisi you want an easy example of the extent to which Georgia could be considered God’s garden in their myths, the botanical gardens are not a bad starting point at all.

The amount of wildlife I saw was probably decreased by the time of year – it was desperately hot, and Tbilisi itself gets extremely humid thanks to its location in the middle of a tight valley, such that probably even for reptiles it was getting rather too warm. Invertebrates, an array of spectacular dragonflies in particular, were nonetheless out in force, and the fast-flowing stream that fed the waterfall was the home of grey wagtails and dippers – both species that I had last seen not so long before darting down a similar looking stream on a far, far cooler day in the UK, but no less welcome a sight for that. At other times of year I imagine the gardens are far busier with avian life: a large flock of jays and a couple of Tbilisi’s omnipresent feral cats were the main wildlife I encountered on the hot, dry hillsides, though in places where there were ponds, frogs and butterflies were also very much present. Lizards were also not too hard to find; not perhaps desperately abundant but keeping a careful eye on cracks in the walls I found two or three and managed to get some photographs.


One of the spectacular dragonflies in the botanical garden.
About my last morning I can say little other than it arrived too soon - all I had left to do was get some souvenirs and head for the airport (where my suitcase ended up just a kilo under the weight limit, largely thanks to my book collecting habits). I headed to Khurjini, a spice shop close to the Kalasi hotel, which I can absolutely recommend for souvenir purchases – the wide and impressive range of spices and teas on offer make lightweight and inexpensive souvenirs, and sweet foods are on offer too. Whilst Georgians do not have much of a sweet tooth in their cuisine compared to, for example, Turkish or Greek cooking, there is nonetheless a very specific traditional set of Georgian sweet foods, mostly based on boiling down fruit in various ways. Notable among these are muraba, essentially the application of a jam-making process to large chunks of fruit or whole charries, tklapi, large sheets of fruit leather traditionally made from grape juice/pulp, pelamushi, a thickened grape juice and cornflour dessert with a slightly-thicker-than-jelly-like consistency which I tried making once, and above all churchkhela. This last is the mother of Georgian desserts, a string of walnuts or hazelnuts dipped-and-dried several times in a thickened grape juice mix to form what can best be described as a sort of grape and walnut sausage. Churchkhela are available absolutely everywhere in Tbilisi, but most are somewhat looked down on by Georgians I talked to – mass-produced with sugar syrup and artificial colourings for the tourist market – but khurjini at least offers them both unsweetened and sweetened with honey, and in the brownish colour that the grape juice naturally provides.

The end of my stay, in my head at least, was not really the plane home, bumping once again against the turbulence blown up from the mountains below. It was the night before, with a last plate (for now) of khinkali and a wide view over Tbilisi. It had been a voyage of observation of things I knew from my own reading as much as it had been a pure journey of discovery for me, but I had appreciated it no less for that. It was strangely like walking into my own readings, amending them and reshaping them to the real landscape upon which they were based. This was Tbilisi, a city full of stories in a land wrapped so tightly in myth that every street carries the threads of another tale. Even the harsher facts of this city’s raw present – protests, casinos, European flags lining car-filled streets – are rooted deeply in the stories its people choose to tell themselves from the vast bundle of myth and history they live around, stories about who they are, where they come from, what differentiates them and what they share.

Both as a historian and as a storyteller, in two (at least) very different ways, I felt that after my fortnight in Tbilisi I knew more and understood less and was glad of both things. The curse of an academic perspective on any subject is that one strives to know more, and in doing so uncovers gaps in understanding that one could never previously have known existed, but every time that stage is reached it provides a deep satisfaction, for therein lies the spark to go and discover more. My storytelling eyes meanwhile are drawn ever on and in to the web of ideas and tales that I find as I do so, and if on the way I cannot help but weave them a little differently, I would hardly be the first traveller in Tbilisi’s past to add my own voice to the centuries of bright cacophony. I end, then, on the knowledge of how little perhaps any of us will ever know about the depths of Tbilisi’s stories. What I do know, at least, is that I have no intention of this being my only trip to the city or the country – and that when I go back, far more of the treasures of Georgia’s stories and histories await, along with some khachapuri, a good glass of wine, and, most importantly of all, the friends I made in this beautiful, complex city. გმადლობთ, თბილისო - მე ისევ მოვალ!




5
Bigosaur / Tapir skin (for the undead pig)
« on: July 28, 2019, 08:49:25 PM »
THE TAPIR SKINPACK



So, I've never been a huge fan of the undead pig. It's not that it isn't a cool concept, or that I don't like it sometimes: sometimes I am just going full necromancer and my undead slavering beast is exactly what I need then. But most of the time that's not how I'm thinking about my SoaW characters, and so it sometimes annoys me that it's basically the most common mount in the game (by some margin, I think, as the baby dragons are very rare and there are loads of other forest rooms that crowd out the boars). So I thought I'd spice things up by reskinning it - and after a bit of thought, decided on a tapir. There was no particular good logic to this other than perhaps that tapirs, like pigs, are somewhat rotund and so will look OK with the same base without to much messing around. So, uh, if you ever want to ride a tapir in this game, this thread has you covered!



SCREENSHOTS


An elf ranger meets an unexpected exotic animal in a very unexpected location!


This works out well for everyone. Well, except maybe the ranger's foes...


INSTALL INSTRUCTIONS

1. Navigate to: Steam/steamapps/common/Son of A Witch/Witch.app/contents/resources/gfx/pig
2. MAKE A COPY of the "pig.png" file (call it something like pig_undead)
3. Paste the tapir.png contained in the zip file (attached to this post, below) into the folder, and rename it to "pig.png".
4. If you want to switch back to the normal green archer, just switch the filenames back round.

As with all modpacks this is an unofficial project, released for free and downloaded/used entirely at the user's own risk.

6
Bigosaur / Armoured Archer Skinpack
« on: July 28, 2019, 08:37:58 PM »
THE ARMOURED ARCHER SKINPACK

So, I've had this idea knocking around in my head for a while - the game's basic archer is a light ranger-type archer, but why not produce an archer that's more of an armoured medieval soldier type? As such, here he is, with a metal helmet and a neck-covering and torso armour of scale mail, with a red colour theme on his quiver arrows and sleeves. I think he fits pretty well with the original game's textures, and could also work well alongside e.g the Avtandil skin from my Knight In Panther Skin skinpack if you want a general low-medieval overhaul of how your SoaW should look. Hope you like it!



SCREENSHOTS


Who shoots first, wins: facing off against a castle guard on the battlements.


More armour is nice when you unexpectedly find yourself in a war zone!


Out in the deserts, an armoured mounted archer is the king of warriors...


...as some of these unfortunate bandits are about to find out!


INSTALL

1. Navigate to: Steam/steamapps/common/Son of A Witch/Witch.app/contents/resources/gfx/archer
2. MAKE A COPY of the "archer.png" file (call it something like archer_green)
3. Paste the archer_armoured.png contained in the zip file (attached to this post, below) into the folder, and rename it to "archer.png".
4. If you want to switch back to the normal green archer, just switch the filenames back round.

As with all modpacks this is an unofficial project, released for free and downloaded/used entirely at the user's own risk.

7
Issue 34: Summer 2019

EDITORIAL

Welcome back, friends! One of the issues of moving to three-monthly newsletters is a blessing that turns into a curse - namely, that there's so much to put in them! This might be the longest issue of Updates from the Forge we've ever written, and there's still more that could have been included. This summer edition, there's something of a theme of exploration, whether it's to gentle musical backgrounds in the worlds of minecraft, in person with travelogues that take you through the history and culture of different European cities, into peril with the madcap crew in Pixel Dungeon adventure, or on into the deep wildernesses traversed by Aure's Roadwardens of Viaticum. We hope your own summer explorations are going well, and that you enjoy this issue!

Around the Exilian community, Jubal (that being myself) and Tusky have been re-elected as Basileus/Chair and Spatharios/Moderator respectively - we're still short on several volunteers and would be very happy to hear from anyone interested in getting involved in anything from social media to writing to tech stuff. We've got plenty coming up nonetheless - whilst we had to postpone doing a chain-writing project because the person organising it was busy, we're still hoping to get that done in the next few months, there's at least one very exciting Kickstarter coming up which we'll keep you updated about, and of course plenty more on our regular projects to be done.

So once more unto the breach, dear friends, for a whopping nine article blockbuster of an Updates from the Forge...

CONTENTS:

  • Editorial
  • Game Development
    • Ride out as a Roadwarden!
    • Tackling Big Issues: Neofeud II
    • Keep the Home Fires Burning
    • Empires of the Undergrowth: Introducing Leafcutters!
  • Writing & Arts
    • Jubal's Travelogues
    • Pixel Dungeon Adventures Get Demonic...
    • Tales from the Fediverse Issue 1 Released!
  • Miscellany
    • Textures from Eric Matyas
    • Let's Build: SOTK plays Minecraft


GAME DEV

Ride out as a Roadwarden!

After the beautiful and well recievedTales From Windy Meadow, Roadwarden is the new game project from Aure of Moral Anxiety Studio. In it, the player character - the titular roadwarden - is tasked with protecting the roadways and helping scout new trade routes in one of the wilder parts of a setting where mankind is already far weaker compared to nature than in many settings we might be more used to. The game features a distinctive sepia-pixel art style with a range of carefully rendered locations - an army camp, a fortified tavern, a mysterious dolmen, a crossroads - that the player explores between, expanding the map with each new location.



The game mainly progresses via an almost choose-your-own-adventure style system, which provides a wide range of choices and options, some of which can only be accessed with particular prior choices, inventory items, or specialisms, giving a huge range of options for how to play and progress through exploring the world. Further increasing the possibilities, the game includes a range of "attitude" options which allow you to set your character's mood and stance towards the characters you interact with, giving greater possible variation in the results. Whilst there will be at least one 'final ending', it's not necessarily one that players will reach on every playthrough, and you can retire and decide that your reconnaissance is over at any point and get a readout of your eventual fate and how you did, too!

Find out more about Roadwarden here:




Tackling Big Issues: Neofeud II


In the Neofeud setting, the backdrop to the adventure game of the same name by Silverspook, a cyberpunk dystopia in the not-so-far future is ruled over by a tiny number of ultra-powerful families, flying in palaces filled with technology of which most can only dream - whilst far below, in a mess of flats, drug dens, brutal law enforcement and homeless camps, much of the population lives desperately trying to stay on the bottom rung of the ladder, scraping what jobs they can together and hoping it will be enough. The first Neofeud game, which you can get on steam, introduced us to this world as some unlikely allies worked their way through the neofeudal elite's struggles for power.

The second game, Neofeud II, is now under development and it looks like it'll be tackling a range of issues that are all too unsettlingly familiar. From teasers like the one included above, it looks like the player characters will be coming up against the potential surveillance use of drone technology, crisis-stricken refugees outside heavily manned border walls, the threat of "deep fake" footage indistinguishable from the real thing, and more besides. Neofeud's signature hand-crafted game art renders all of these in a unique frame-animated style that makes the events unfolding on the screen feel larger than life - and yet, somehow, sharply real.




Keep the Home Fires Burning

It's London, and the year is 1918. The First World War has been ravaging Europe, and though it is now coming to a close, there is a new threat stalking the streets of London. Here is an enemy that you can't shoot, can't propagandise against, will ignore tank rounds and which no trench will stop. The Spanish Influenza has infected the city, and before the end of the epidemic it will claim many tens of thousands of lives. Amid the backdrop of this city battered by war and now ravaged by disease and the loss of so many of its young men, stranger things are occurring, with paranormal activity being reported as darker beings are attracted to the climate of exhaustion and fear that comes with this new threat. This is Keep the Home Fires Burning, a savage worlds setting that pits the players against horrors and more venal, everyday enemies alike in a London that's at its weakest after the long war.

Keep the Home Fires Burning has recently received a new blogpost - it's one of a number of potential Utherwald Press settings that may see more development in future and for which the new Adventurers' Edition of Savage Worlds has given a good excuse for some new additions to the general collection of blogposts and rules that turn up on the Utherwald Press blog. Of course work continues on Utherwald's other settings, in particular the dieselpunk 'Realms of Darmonica' with its tundra-bound Frozen Skies setting which you can get a full setting book for. You can keep up not only with news on the many settings and rules Utherwald Press produce on their forum.




Empires of the Undergrowth: Introducing Leafcutters!


Empires of the Undergrowth is a game about ants. Forming and building great dwellings and societies in the undergrowth around our very feet, ants are industrious, numerous, colonial... and expansionistic. In EotU, you play in a novel RTS-style game controlling an ant colony as it expands and seeks to find food and survive in a range of different scenarios. Game mechanics are carefully tailored to the realities of ant colonies, whether that's controlling your ant groups by scent trail, the very different experiences at different points of day/night cycles, or  The recent addition of leafcutters adds a range of new game mechanics, including fungus growth and the eponymous leaf-cutting, for hours of additional gameplay with new units and scenarios - and new threats to your colony, of course...






ART & WRITING

Jubal's Travelogues

Our own Jubal has been doing quite a bit of hopping around Europe by train and plane for work in the last few years, and has written a number of travelogue pieces about the places he's been - not just describing them, but delving - as a historian from a family of naturalists, what else would one expect - deep into the history, creatures, culture, nature, and folklore of each place as well as reflecting on the connections between them. providing photos of wildlife, buildings, and more. Recent travelogues have included trips to Klagenfurt, Austria, and to what's now (but, it turns out, hasn't always been) called Limburg, on the borders between the Netherlands and Belgium, and nearby Aachen on Germany's western border.



In Klagenfurt, capital of the southern Austrian state of Carinthia, Jubal discovers a mythical lindworm and a mythical dwarf both of whom are said to have flooded the valley, a recent returnee from Africa, a writer who fled fascism, and a lot of sparrows. In Limburg and Aachen, meanwhile, his travels took him to Maastricht, Genk, and then Aachen, seeing various friends along the way - in a trip that among other things featured a Rodent Of Unusual Size, a bookshop in a church, a disused coal mine, a digital sundial, and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe.  so if you want to discover more about the travel stops, history and mythology of both areas, and read on...


 

Pixel Dungeon Adventures Get Demonic...



The comedy fantasy webcomic continues, as three pixellated friends continue their travels around the world and meet an array of strange and exciting characters along the way with more or less catastrophic results! The brave but not necessarily sharp-thinking hero Sir Bob, the shady minmaxed wizard Lady Val, and the, uh, big robot rogue Auto, along with their noble steeds (one of whom is a bard), continue their... quests? Adventures, let's say they're adventures - quests sounds rather more directed and heroic than even the average adventuring party often aspires to, and in terms of chaos caused, the three friends seem to be very much beating the average! Recent events include a body-snatching demon, the bard being surprisingly competent, and an encounter with a bounty hunter. Who knows what will ensue next? Read on to find out!



Tales from the Fediverse Issue 1 Released!



The Fediverse - that is, the federated social media system that includes the microblogging system Mastodon and the image sharing network Pixelfed among other projects - is a hive of creative wizardry, and one that Exilian, via our @exilianofficial@mastodon.at profile, interacts with frequently. One project that has emerged from this network is Tales From the Fediverse, a collection of comics and stories compiled and hosted by user 'David, A Webcomic', and contributed to by a range of users, one of them being our own Jubal with the tale "Of Lusku and how she became a mariner", which is a storytelling tale and part of his World of Kavis setting. Other contributions include David's own fantasy adventuring tale, a wordless comic about social media, and a science-fiction exorcist!

There will be future Tales from the Fediverse issues, and they'll likely be announced on DaW's mastodon page. You can download the PDF of issue one here on Exilian - do give it a read!




MISCELLANY

Textures from Eric Matyas



One of our regulars in these newsletters, and on the website generally, Eric Matyas has created and maintains a huge archive of textures, music, and sounds, SoundImage, which are all free to use in both commercial and non-commercial projects with attribution. Recent additions to the textures section are many and varied, from strange alien skins that might cover some creature from the far void of space, to seamless metal textures ready for application to your tanks, industrial wastes, and rusting armours, to stone textures for that golem who needs a better look, the mighty carved cliff-face of a cave monastery, or the carefully carved statue you've been working so hard on. With so much choice, and more always appearing, we're always happy to be able to put in reminders that SoundImage exists - it's such an important and exciting resource, and we hope it'll be useful to you as it has been to so many people already.



Let's Build: SOTK plays Minecraft


Son of the King (or SOTK for short) is one of Exilian's longest standing members, and he's recently been putting together some new Minecraft let's play videos. Without commentary or action, these are rather just relaxing building videos which could spark off ideas in your mind for how to construct the world around you in the game. Their mixture of calming digital scenery, nice backing tracks, and neat creations will be a fun watch for the Minecraft players amongst our readers:






If you're reading this, thankyou as ever for taking the time to nose through these pieces that I put together. It's always nice to hear from readers so do let us know if you discovered a cool project or found this enjoyable to look through! Have a great summer, friends, and we'll be back for more updates when the year starts turning to Autumn. Until next time!

8
The World of Kavis / Second Game
« on: June 16, 2019, 06:01:28 PM »
So, my second testing one-shot, entitled "even doves cast a shadow", happened, and I think it worked well enough :)

As a mystery story I think the plot here worked out quite well and didn't feel like it had too many obvious holes in it - the players expended quite a lot of resources in their efforts, but in a one-shot that's OK and expected. The final battle, a setup where the players had to hold off the called monsters of the main villain, worked pretty neatly as I'd planned it, though very fortunately I decided to give them eight rather than ten turns to hold out - a decision made because we'd have overrun badly on time otherwise, but also helpful because ten turns would've killed them. I generally managed to poke the players in the right direction enough but still have them come up with some of their own solutions which I wasn't expecting (stunning the fungi was smart, creative use of the beast handling skill on the Kalade and of falconry commands in the final battle too). There's definitely a particular thing for one-shots of having to keep the players on more of a track, but they were good about taking that track in the spirit it was intended so credit to them

I still didn't get into doing more detailed combat stuff as I'd hoped after the last game, but the players once again generally avoided fighting. I think the combat was successfully cinematic, though I was finding it a lot to think through in my head. In the final battle I did manage to let Clara/Robin use the "defend" action though I got how it was meant to work wrong (mea culpa), though my on the fly version fortunately worked fine. I definitely forgot to worry about or explain called shots and didn't use the ganging up rules - the latter probably a good thing. Toughness makes a big difference in Savage Worlds, I'm rapidly finding - the difference between a T4 and a T5 enemy is really very significant for a first-level, low strength character fighting with a dagger. This in turn makes decisions on how to equip/stat up enemies pretty important. I suspect this starts to become less of an issue and the fights get quicker and more deadly once you hit 2d6 being a more normal damage level, but I quite liked the desperate, low-power, defensive nature of the final fight in this one, which fitted the atmosphere I'd hoped for.

I think I possibly could've done with lower character complexity - I didn't have the time I wanted to really build up all eight or nine NPCs who turned up. Having to go through the basics of how religion works in this setting was a lot to dump on the players as well, though they handled it admirably. I need better notes on what information to give the PCs in future - I should probably have given them a hint about the knockers somehow, which wouldn't have been hard to do.

And here's the actually fairly long writeup of everything that happened:
Spoiler (click to show/hide)

9
Tabletop Design - The Senet House / Free RPG Day
« on: June 10, 2019, 11:01:20 PM »
Dunno if this is just a US-side thing but it sounds pretty cool:

Quote
The first Free RPG Day event happened in 2007 at hobby game stores all over the world. The idea was to bring new and exclusive RPG quickstart rules and adventures to both new and experienced gamers for $0. For one day, you could walk into your local game store and get a booklet containing simple, beginner-level rules for a tabletop RPG, which you could play with people there in the store or with friends back home. The booklet was yours to keep forever.

The event was such a smash hit that the tradition has continued ever since. This year, Free RPG Day is scheduled for Saturday, June 15.

https://opensource.com/article/19/5/free-rpg-day

10
The World of Kavis / First test!
« on: June 10, 2019, 11:18:47 AM »
A Storm over Gemiscare

This was now a couple of weeks ago, but I felt I should write something up on my first game running Savage Worlds anyway. It was definitely a learning experience, but one in which I think everyone had fun :)

I'd cobbled together a mostly relatively newbie gaming group - one experienced RPG player, three inexperienced ones, none of us had used SW before. It worked pretty well regardless, which I think is testament to a pretty strong core ruleset (and a decent amount of preparation on my part, I'd run several combats for myself so I knew the ropes well enough to run it moderately smoothly). Also, I had a really good balance of players, which helped, definite credit to them too.

We didn't really use any of the "alternative combat maneuvers" other than the basic attack - nobody had any spells except the priest having healing and light which didn't get used, and nobody had taunt. I think that was OK, especially as it was a learning game for all of us, but it's probably the next bit of the rules that would need to be introduced to make combat more fun. I also need to get better with on-the-fly adjustments to things - in a longer campaign, it's much more OK to have encounters the players have to run from, but if it's the final battle in a one-shot game it can really mess you up. I think I managed the NPCs fairly well, though that's going to take practice.

Anyhow, a full writeup of what happened is spoilered below if you want to read it...



Spoilered since I'm actually going to write this adventure up as a PDF at some point, but here's the notes/story on what actually happened:

Spoiler (click to show/hide)



11
Exilian Articles / The Pararelational Paradox
« on: June 06, 2019, 05:26:23 PM »
The Pararelational Paradox
By Jubal




Are creators becoming overloaded nodes in our social networks?
So today I want to talk about pararelational hell, and whether and how we can avoid it. In short, what I’m talking about is the tendency for creators to either directly expose, or present a manicured version of, their lives outside their work, and directly drive engagement with their work by creating the impression that through it one can have a direct and personal relationship with them as independent from their work.

Examples of this are not hard to find, though there’s clearly a spectrum both in how well different people can cope with pararelational situations and how heavily people lean on this as a marketing strategy. I’ve certainly seen successful creators whose social media has ended up 50% apologies for being unable to respond to the deluges of personal messages they get from fans and connections, but who still feel that the solution to this is to keep engaging those people with “hey everyone tell me what you’re doing today” posts (as if this was something possible to keep track of for a person who’s at the limit of Facebook friends or who has tens of thousands of Twitter followers). On top of that there’s the pressure of being constantly accessible; whilst I’m sure some creators love being able to share good and bad news with the folk online who care about their work, others feel that they will be penalised for not explaining that no, they couldn’t get a comic up this week due to a recurrent illness or a bad breakup – and that part of their job is not only to share their own lives but to directly care about and deal with the issues in the lives of their community of fans on an individual level. It’s an impossible task.

I think this is genuinely primarily a tendency of the internet age: large numbers of people are now on the same social media services as creators they love, and this moves things from what in the old days would’ve been restricted to snail-speed fan mail (which few fans get the time and energy to write, except for e.g. world famous authors) to the point where a creator can tweet make a Facebook post and get two dozen replies within an hour. Broadcast social media such as Twitter and YouTube, which mostly function via open public posts, perhaps particularly encourage such a strategy, though Facebook tends to host the worst examples I’ve seen as the lure of being “friends” with a creator or commenting on their public posts seems to make people feel even more demanding of replies. Patreon and systems like it, whilst extremely good for the independent creative industries generally, also form a part of this, as one of the most standard marketing strategies is additional vlogposts, Q&As, and otherwise access to the creator in question.

So just to be clear here, I meant it when I used the term pararelational hell at the top of this post. I think pararelational marketing is exceedingly unhealthy. It screws over people who are unable or unwilling to participate in it by messing up audience expectations, burns out creators by getting them to effectively sell a huge amount of emotional labour along with their work, and leaves audiences understandably dissatisfied. The fact is that creators can’t put in the effort needed to have several hundred (or more) good friends who they talk to all the time as well as buying their stuff. I don’t say this at all as someone who feels like I’m immune to this sort of system – as you might guess from the fact I founded this website, I find creative people wonderful and interesting and want more chances to talk to them – but the extent to which we’ve normalised people being expected to lay their lives bare to those accessing their work I think is a problem, one that’s hurting creators who participate in it and those who feel unable to alike.

So what are the solutions, if there are any? It’s a difficult question to answer without trying to go through an unhelpful process of apportioning blame, which wouldn’t, I think, help anyone – both creators and fans need to readjust their habits toward something more healthy and it’s a question of how we put in systems to best help our communities do so. I think one big part is better community reporting and magazines in indie creative communities – they provide an alternative route for players and fans to find and appreciate creators’ work. Good indie journalism, if supported well, might take pressure off creators. Sure, it takes time to do press releases and so on, but better hub systems for such releases and more journalists willing to go out and find stuff rather than just waiting for press releases to roll in would help share a load which is pushed far too much onto the creators right now.

Secondly, I think we need better fan communities per se that are built around appreciation for the work, not built around personal interactions with the creator of a work. This is a problem for social media design as well, which elevates personal and direct connections to an extent which can swamp people. Actually, we may need to rebuild fan communities and news outlets which allow the creator to retain or regain a little distance. The collapse of an effective “mid tier” of fandom consisting of interviewers, community admins and moderators, and suchlike has rolled too much of the work in many cases onto creators themselves, many of whom don’t have the resources or experience to deal with it. We need to start valuing that interactivity in communities more, and see creative communities as, ideally, communities rather than just conversations. Connecting people up is not enough, and risks pressing creators to try and build the nexus of a community around themselves without the support that comes from taking a more workable, sustainable, communal approach.

All that said, I certainly don't have all the answers - I don't know what level of engagement is desirable or sustainable and I'm sure that this will vary hugely between people as it always does. But I do think the tendency to go pararelational, fuelled by a media sphere that emphasises individual connection over communal discussion, is something that we need to think about more, and I hope this has provided some thought on doing so - thankyou for reading!

12
Amid the Building of Europe: A Trip to Limburg and Aachen



It was in Aachen when I really realised where I was going. I’d planned this trip in advance of course – a night in Maastricht, then two in the small Belgian town of Opglabbeek, seeing some good friends and knocking two countries off my “not yet visited” list in disconcertingly quick succession. But in Aachen, waiting for the connecting train to Maastricht, I looked at some of the local light rail and bus timetables briefly, listened to the conversations, and it entirely hit me that I wasn’t, in fact, really “in Germany and about to go to the Netherlands”. That was technically true, but in fact I was just somehow… in Europe. The voices around me mingled French, German, Dutch and English in a swirling mixture, the local public transport simply ignored the technicalities of border distinctions. It was a funny thing to have happen in the city of Charlemagne, this appreciation of how intertwined this part of Europe now was. Maastricht was only to confirm that view.

~


The Helpoort. I had lunch at the cafe in the background.
Maastricht, where I arrived a little over an hour later, is according to numerous observers not so much a Dutch city as a polyglot European one that happens to be attached to the Netherlands for administrative purposes. It sticks out awkwardly on a territorial lobe that heads southwards - and thus upland and inland, and into majority Catholic country - from the wide, flat Netherlands to the north. In my native UK, its name is synonymous with the treaty that bears its name, the result of one of many international negotiations hosted by Maastricht in the last century or two - but one notable in the UK for sparking the Conservative Party civil wars in the 1990s, which in turn ultimately formed a prequel to the Brexit narrative currently unfolding; and it is an appropriate impact for a city that comes across as publicly and almost fiercely European to have had.

As one of the only Dutch cities that can reasonably trace its lineage back to the Roman era, it’s a city to which the idea of Europe is nothing especially new. Situated well to dominate a vital ford across the Maas (or Meuse) river, the city’s strategic position was claimed by the Romans, sat at the heart of the Carolingian Empire, and then had its governance shared between the prince-Bishops of Liege and a succession of secular actors – the Dukes of Brabant, the Spanish crown, the Dutch estates-general, and on several occasions the French. At almost any given time, then, the dominant power of the European mainland has counted Maastricht within its domains. Its fortifications have surprisingly large surviving sections considering this fact, including the Helpoort, a 13th century gate which is the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands. The ‘Hell Gate’ is an eighteenth century name, and for most of its history this was known as the High Bridge Gate, standing where the bridge over the Jeker would once have been, just north of the city park. The Helpoort is an impressive building and has a detailed museum display in Dutch inside and a fairly nice open-air café quite nearby – sadly the construction of the building does not allow for good views from it, but the display was interesting even as a non-Dutch speaker and English guidebooks (and a helpful English speaker on the desk) are available.

Europe’s largest non-state actor for the past two millennia, the Catholic church, was very much involved in the city as well, with the city’s two Basilicas, that of the Armenian Saint Servatius and the Basilica of Our Lady, the latter of which I was able to look around, enjoying the dark and somewhat atmospheric space. The modern, more secular-leaning Maastricht has ended up with so many spare religious buildings that it has practically developed “converted church” into an architectural style. One of the crowning glories of this is the former Dominican church that now houses a three-storey bookshop and cafe. The English language section thereof is extensive and has a SF/Fantasy shelving area that would be very respectable indeed in a similarly sized English bookshop; perhaps sadly or perhaps fortunately, I felt I was carrying quite enough luggage as it was.



The beaver of Maastricht, tucking into some food.
I was hosted by two old friends from the UK who are now living in Maastricht (one of them being Exilian’s Fish Priest) – it was very good to see them both, and after chatter about Game of Thrones and Doctor Who, and a good dinner, we went for a walk down the Jeker, a small river that feeds into the Maas in the city. Having been wandering through the city and its parks earlier, I had noted (besides the fact that everything was really very pretty) that there were an astonishing number of painted tortoises sunbathing on one of the ponds in the main city park. An American species, the painted tortoise is now well established on city ponds across Europe largely due to introductions and escapes from pet populations, and I had seen them in Frankfurt – but seeing thirty or so clustered on a small island, with moorhens and coot carefully picking their way around them, was still a surprise, as it was to my hosts, so we went looking for them. We did indeed find some swimming around in the late evening light, but they were rather surpassed by a much larger semi-aquatic visitor to the pond – which, as the eagle-eyed of you will no doubt have spotted already from my accompanying photograph to this part of the piece, was a Eurasian beaver.

Eurasian beavers, a distinct species from their American cousins, are on the increase across Europe after being nearly hunted to extinction by around 1900, and the smaller rivers and wetlands around Maastricht are known to have them. That fact did not in any sense decrease the surprise at seeing, one or two metres away, a beaver in the central park of a city, entirely unbothered by the excitable hairless apes chattering and pointing funny black boxes at it and just getting on with mowing through the grass with all the gusto that over twenty kilograms of rodent can muster (which, for the record, is plenty). Not far off a metre long even discounting the tail, beavers are the second heaviest rodents in the world after capybaras, and one really gets a sense of that size when privileged to have such a good view of one. Whilst the light wasn’t fantastic, I did my best to get some good pictures – none quite perfect, but some quite acceptable results thanks more to my supremely relaxed subject than any ability on my own part. A mix of Dutch and English chatter ensued as tourists, students, and residents alike stopped to be captivated by its stoical and businesslike progress through consuming the local flora - it was a strangely unifying moment for people from different walks of life. All was not to remain peaceful for the beaver though, as two mute swans sailed up with all the grace of high class Mafiosi – outnumbered two to one as much as the human observers were rooting for it, and faced with a barrage of threatening hisses, the beaver first retreated along the bank and then slipped back into the water, heading out towards the Jeker again to make good its escape. It’s probably the most exciting wildlife sighting I’ve had this year at least; being able to get such a close view was definitely a privilege, and one I was glad I could record.


~


A nature reserve near Opglabbeek - the frogs in this pool were extremely vocal!
The next morning, I headed to Genk on the bus, crossing the seamless border into northern Belgium, and then changed at the station to head onward to Opglabbeek, where I would be staying for the next two nights. Rural Flanders of all places reminded me strangely of Lincolnshire in the UK – a somewhat rolling countryside with a mix of mostly twentieth or nineteenth century brick buildings of one to two storeys, some flat-topped shops, advertising hoardings, and a somewhat bric-a-brac approach to planning in which little thought had been given to consistency and demand had not been so high as to fill in the gaps between the houses. This region, and Maastricht’s part of the Netherlands, are both known as Limburg – a curious name, since the historical Duchy of Limburg actually incorporated none of this territory, and lay further south in what’s now Belgium’s Liege province, as can be seen from the location of Limbourg itself. The modern Limburg, straddling Belgium and the Netherlands, was originally to be called Maastricht Province after its main city, but William I of the post-Napoleonic Netherlands was loath for the name of the Duchy of Limburg to be lost from the organisation of his new state, and solved the problem by relabelling Maastricht province to that effect.

Opglabbeek, whose name means something like “clear beck”, was bundled into that new Limburg like many other nearby places. In the medieval period it was within the County of Loon, dominated by the aforementioned prince-Bishops of Liege and roughly coterminous with modern Belgian Limburg, though the Abbey of Averbode were the direct overlords here. The modern town has a small, open, centre of shops, with its old church at its heart (which sadly I wasn’t able to look inside). Parts of the church are medieval, parts early modern, and parts twentieth century – in general, the town feels more modern than old in its building style, having grown rapidly post-industrialisation.

The friend I was staying with there, besides being an excellent host, is a hammered dulcimer player and singer who performs as Elvya Dulcimer and whose YouTube channel is very well worth a listen with two albums if you find you like the results! I got a brief chance to try playing the instrument myself, but fortunately for the world no recordings were made of the attempt! As she’s a fan of barefoot walking, I followed suit for much of the time I was there, which was another interesting aspect of the trip as a whole. I definitely felt the lack of my guitar, which is currently sitting in Vienna and which my current wrist RSI problems make it difficult to play for long periods in any case – not that the woods of Belgium ended up devoid of music on either of our parts, as voices at least are portable.



One of the two imposing towers of C-mine. The metal wall on the left is part of the maze.
Elvya is among other things a fairly serious player of Ingress, so this trip reintroduced me to Niantic-style mobile gaming which I hadn’t touched since 2016 – nonetheless my Pidgeot named Rustaveli and my Bulbasaur named Alexiad were still sitting on Niantic’s servers so I fired Pokemon Go up again and spent a while playing as we were going around the area. These sorts of geographically focused games which encourage players to move and find different stops are interesting, and clearly excellent for building local communities of players, not just for playing but for metagame aspects like submitting and placing new stops – two of which in the area my friend had created by doing pieces of street art where she wanted the stop to be and submitting those! I still find Pokemon Go frustrating after a while due to the lack of tactics and the extent to which one gets swamped with carrying around over a hundred Pokemon (at which point, naturally, remembering which is which gets rather futile). The charm for me of a game like Pokemon is the idea of building my own team and then carefully using them, whereas the approach adopted in Pokemon Go feels rather blunter and more based on doing a lot of screen tapping which is less to my taste.

Back in the real world (or as close to it as this leg of the trip got, at least) our travels took us out to the woods around Opglabbeek twice, both an interesting insight into the area and its wildlife. The clear beck that gives Opglabbeek its name, the Bosbeek, flows through an area of significant natural importance, with dense wet woodland but also sandy ridges and dune formations. The mixture of dry and wet woodland, grassland, and ponds provide a wide range of local habitats, and numerous very pleasant walks. Beavers are growing in number in the landscape, and we saw at least two dams while there. Without binoculars and given the hot weather I had little luck with the local birds, and wished on more than one occasion that I was better at identifying bird noises – there were definitely interesting things there and a wide range of calls to be heard. I did a little better with the local invertebrates and amphibians, it has to be said, and got some good practice with the macro setting on my camera. There were lots of very loud frogs, and baby frogs crossing the path regularly as well; this area hosts two frog species of European interest, the moor and pool frogs. The sandy parts of the woods host ant-lions among other things, though these were sadly not so forthcoming.



Some of the sundials in Sundial Park - note the digital display sundial on the left!
Besides the forests, there were also trips to Genk itself. Unlike Maastricht, Genk is a fairly new city – a quiet backwater for centuries, its great resource only came into use in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a brief, heady, and indeed literal blaze, and is all but gone again today. That resource is coal, and one of Genk’s two main attractions today for tourists (and mobile gamers, as it turns out) is C-mine, a cultural/creative centre and cinema built around two now disused coal mine towers which are left standing as part of the city’s cultural legacy. A maze at the centre of the complex provides some artistic shots and its rough metal feel gives a certain post-industrial dignity to the place. Genk’s miners were in many cases migrants, and today the town is very diverse as a result. One friend who we went to C-mine with and who kindly discussed several aspects of the place with me was from a Greco-Turkish family who had come to dig coal and stayed. Those from new families will just as happily give you a joking warning about the dangers of going to Wallonia as the longer-rooted members of the Flemish population, of course – some things are pretty unifying in Flanders.

Genk’s other major attraction is Sundial Park, which I can wholeheartedly recommend if you happen to be in town on a nice day. As the name implies, it’s a park full of sundials – twelve of them, each with very different workings, including a book sundial, a sundial that contains a moondial for time telling at night, and what was apparently the world’s first public digital sundial, in which a clever arrangement of slits allows the sun to shine through clearly readable numbers to tell the time. All of the pieces are fascinating (though one or two are sadly lacking necessary parts), and I enjoyed my trip there enough that I took an hour out of the journey home to go and have another look at several of them. It’s a nice park generally too, with some chickens and goats by way of animal enclosures, a large lake with some impressive ornamental water-birds that look a bit like a cross between a turkey, a mallard, and a tyrannosaurus, a lot of moorhens, and some woodland areas where I found and photographed a field-mouse. If you want to find out more about Sundial Park and how its attractions work, I can very much recommend the online guide written by Dutch engineer Frans Maes, which I used myself as a guide to the park and which was very helpful.

After a rather epic scale dinner at Sashimi, Genk’s rather good all you can eat sushi restaurant, a night-wander back through Sundial Park found me in a contemplative mood – when one finds oneself sitting on part of a giant Belgian sundial, at night, in the dark, with a belly full of Japanese cuisine and no shoes on, contemplation seems like the best activity to engage in. The next morning nonetheless beckoned me onwards, via the aforementioned final stop in Sundial Park, towards Maastricht. My train was booked for half past six from Maastricht, but arriving there at around two I made a quick decision to cut off the early part of the journey and hop on a bus to where I would meet my connection – that is, I headed back to Aachen. It was not a decision I in any way regretted.


~


The Elisenbrunnen - note the cathedral roof in the background.
The bus pulled up next to Aachen’s Elisenbrunnen park, which boasts a rather nice colonnade-type building (the Elisenbrunnen itself) at the bottom in which some classical musicians were playing. It’s a small park and was fairly packed with people, though worth a visit nonetheless for the small pavilion of historic ruins which contains a good potted exhibition guide to the city’s history, from its beginnings as a Celtic settlement where people gathered at the hot sulphurous springs and worshipped the god Grannus, hence the subsequent Roman town of Aquae Grannus. From a Roman bath town, it became Charlemagne’s preferred residence in the heyday of his Empire – the twenty years in which Aachen was his main winter residence were just a short episode in the city’s history, but they determined much of its future. In the distance, above the buildings, I could already see Aachen’s cathedral – built with the octagon of Charlemagne’s palatine chapel still standing at its heart.


Inside Odo of Metz's octagonal masterpiece.
It was over a century between Charlemagne’s death and the decision of Otto I to claim his legacy for his Ottonian dynasty by being crowned in Aachen, on the surprisingly plain throne that his Carolingian predecessor had placed there and which still sits on the upper level facing the choir, just about visible, today. Otto’s decision set the trend so that for half a millennium, German kings followed that road to this otherwise relatively unassuming and neutral city, before in the early modern period coronations finally moved to larger and more powerful Frankfurt. The cathedral was extended in the late middle ages with a huge gothic choir, impressive in its own right, with vast stained-glass windows. It is the Carolingian octagon, though, surviving past French and Spanish invasions in the early modern period and even heavy Allied bombing in the 1940s, that forms the real majesty of the building. We even know the name of the architect, Odo of Metz, who may have been of Armenian origin according to some sources, from a tenth century inscription around the dome (along with St. Servatius this makes two Armenians mentioned in this piece, which is two more than I expected to turn up in a piece on a trip to the low countries!) In any case, whatever Odo's origins, if any of us can put our name to something quite so impressive, standing so long, we will have done well indeed.

The octagon is free to enter, with a one euro charge to take pictures – though it’s tricky to take anything that really gets the scale of a building that is far taller than it is wide. A squat ground layer gives way to high Roman-era columns and arches that reach towards a high golden roof, with neatly chosen stonework and beautifully made mosaic, with utterly stunning mosaic ceilings around the edge of the octagon which support the mezzanine level on which Charlemagne’s throne (not accessible to the public) can be found. Many of the staples of medieval church art are there, such as the medieval pelican, but also a lion, a rooster, a ship, and numerous birds can be found. Even the borders and pattern designs are individually extremely impressive pieces of work. I frequently find the highly decorated cathedrals of mainland Europe to be too artistically busy for me for me to appreciate them, but Aachen retains sufficient consistency and is of such quality that it was simply an overwhelmingly beautiful place to visit.



The "Oliphant of Charlemagne" - probably actually of 11th century Mediterranean origin.
The artworks and relics of the church, and the nearby Cathedral treasury which can be found just to the north of the cathedral courtyard and which is also well worth looking through, are an impressive collection both in their antiquity and their historical resonances. The mighty golden 12th century Karlsschrein in the choir of the cathedral contains Charlemagne’s probable remains, while the smaller 13th century Marienschrein (Shrine of Mary) contains the principal relics of the church – the supposed loincloth and swaddling cloth of Jesus, the dress of Mary, and the execution cloth of John the Baptist. The octagon’s chandelier was donated by Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century, and the golden, gem-studded pulpit and golden altar front are 11th century additions. In the treasury, meanwhile, a number of other treasures linked to Charlemagne can be found, including the ‘Oliphant’, a beautiful elephant ivory hunting horn which in fact post-dates Charlemagne by a century or two, an eighth century Damascus steel knife which apocryphally belonged to him as well, and a Roman era sarcophagus which according to some was his original resting place before his remains were reinterred in the Karlsschrein some centuries later. Beside these, a number of impressive relics and heraldic items are on display, including the crown of Margaret of York, a sister of Edward IV who married Charles the Bold of Burgundy – between that and the 11th century sheath of Charlemagne’s hunting knife, on which the inscription is in Old English, it served as a surprising reminder (though it should have been no surprise at all) of how inseparable my home islands have always been from the workings of the continent they are a part of.

I wandered Aachen’s streets for a short while as well, looking at the Rathaus, itself an immensely impressive building with some elements of its 14th century construction and style surviving, sitting north of the Cathedral and just south of the main old market square. Just south of the Cathedral its small predecessor, the Grashaus, also survives and can be seen. I also got to see both of the city’s surviving city gates, part of a once extremely impressive double wall fortification system – the Ponttor, in the north, is the more impressive of the two, and contains the statue of Mary in her traditional niche, watching still over a gateway that no longer guards the entrance to her city. The other surviving gate, the Marschiertor, is easy to see even if you have only a short stop in the city as it's conveniently placed five minutes walk from the station to which, regretfully, I had at last to head to make my way home.


~

And so I left Charlemagne’s Imperial capital, whose very existence was undoubtedly a recognition that something had changed in post-Roman Europe – that the reins of power could be held on the Rhine and Maas as much as on the Tiber. Since that twenty year period, twelve hundred years ago, this part of Europe has been skipping between its warring neighbours, servicing their aspirations to power, adapting to their shifting borders, and eventually rolling out the tables and chairs when they finally decided to sit down and talk, drawing the world around them quietly but inexorably together. For much of Europe, the modern, borderless reality we now live in is still a brave and exciting new departure; for the cities around Aachen and the Limburg borderlands, it is hard not to see that reality instead as a vindication of the long arc of their history. And on the train back to Frankfurt I wondered, as I reflected on friends made and sights seen, and as I started to write this piece, whether just maybe they’d managed to draw me, too, into being a part of that European journey.

13
I thought this was an interesting piece:

https://www.highlevelgames.ca/blog/4-reasons-to-fear-an-rpg-industry-extinction

Basically the tl;dr is that if the US, the biggest market for RPG products, starts slapping a 25% import tax on toys and games from countries like China, where most of the actual manufacturing happens. The upshot in an industry as low-margin as RPGs will be to massacre the small players (because it still won't be profitable to produce stuff in the US, it just won't be profitable to make things in China either).

Thoughts on this? (NB - please keep the thoughts to the impact of this on the gaming world: if too much discussion happens on the pure politics of tariffs, I'll have to split it off and take it to the debate area)

14
The Boozer / Google translate does Georgian animals...
« on: May 07, 2019, 06:12:00 PM »
OK, so I asked Google to translate for me the names on the list of Georgian mammal species and the results are so amazing that I absolutely had to share them. You should be able to get the original list at: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ka&u=http://geofauna.ge/index.php%3Fpage%3Dgeo_nature_single%26id%3D1768&prev=search

So let's play a game. One point for every correctly guessed species on this list :P

FAMILYGENUSSPECIES
Spit outSpotsOpthalmic Strip
OkayTeethThe teeth white
TeethThe teeth are small
BagsBIGA SALCONNIC
Brown biscuitsLittle brown biscuits
So how are you?
Caucasian brown biscuits
Caucasian little brown biscuits
Many morePudding
Bulldogs batsBulldog batsBulldogs
BrushesBruisesBruce Black
Bruce White
To find outBearingsBear the broom
DolphinShorts DolphinsThe usual dolphin is short
AppliancesApelina
HazelThe earrings are waterI'm watering
Forensic ForestThe red is a familiar one
Hammer krcutusHazel ordinary
Memoirs PrometheusMemoir is Prometheus
Hamsters are mediumZamuna Rade
Hazel brands
Memeres of snowI'm a European snowman
The Gudauri snowfall
Memorable is Robert
Memeres SeriesI'm a common man
Memorandum is Schildowski
The message is public
The Dagestan is the Memorial
I'm the bushes
HedgehogThe hedgehogsEastern European hedgehog
Southern hedgehog
Sea pigSea pigsSea pigs
MouseMice forest and fieldMouse field
Mouse Asian
Mouse cursor
The mouse on the forest is small
Mouse shirt
Little mechidsThe front line is in me
Little miceLittle mouse
House miceHome mouse
The Macedonian mouse
RatsGray rat
Black rat
TirednessThickersTrenchous Caucasian
The twilight is blind
DeerShellsDread European
Rope cymbals
True deerDeer is noble
CatsCatsLily cat (Subspecies: Caucasian lady cat)
Forest cat (Subspecies: Caucasian forest cat)
LynxLynx Caucasian
PantherJick (leopard)
MartenGoGo to the usual
MartenA white marten
Forest marten
Kerchum
SparklingTap of the tap
Has gone (Subspecies: The Caucasian has gone)
The queen
Rattle
Rabbit landThe hare in the landGerbo is small
Gerbo is great
I do not knowI'm confusedI'm getting upset
True slopesBerry saladsWhite stripes
SemiconductorsMountain goatsNivari Kavazi
The Tribal Caucasian
East Caucasian turquoise
NewspaperKurtsikhi (jeyarani)
ChancesChameleon ordinary
PigBoatsWild boar
DogsWolvesgrey Wolf
FoxesThe fox is normal
DysfunctionalForest diggsThe sound
DyslexiaDyslexic
SquirrelsSquirrelsSquirrel is normal
Squirrel Caucasian
HorsepowerHorsesKanjari (donkey)
With eyesSighnotes Nose south
The nose is big
The nose is small
The nose-wolf
BruisingBruisesA slap in the forest
The curse of the Caucasian
Write to Kazbegi
Crouching Cluck
NightclubHurry upHurriedly European
Hastily Asian
StolitinesCelestine desert
Selatin North
Celtic late
BumpsOrdinary bakery
The casketsThe fog is long lasting
A knife is sharp
A three-color figure
The lavish
A poetic figure
The poem of Nepal
BluesMegamura giant
Meghamura is small
Meghamura Riza
PipitivesPipette in the Mediterranean
Pipette Forest
The pipette is dwarf
The pipette is small
LeatherPipette leather
BrahmsUmno brown
Alpine
Two-color batsTwo-color bats


15
So, some guy on Masto decided to start a new comic/story zine, and I've got a piece in the first issue:
https://exilian.co.uk/projects/FediverseTales1.pdf

It's on page 18. (Also I made us our own mirror rather than having the thing on someone else's dropbox).

Let me know what you think of my story! :)

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