• Nine principles of good dungeon design for D&D

    Ben, of the YouTube channel Questing Beast, is a very talented fantasy mapmaker and dungeon designer. In this video, he runs through nine principles he applies to dungeon design.

    These principles include everything from the basics, like making sure you have multiple entrances and exits and appropriate level challenges to thinking about what the dungeon originally was (an actual prison? fortress? trap? etc.) and letting that inform its design to creating dungeons that loop, that are networks (not liner, not tree-like) and adding three-dimentionality to your dungeon spaces (multi-story rooms, galleries, gangways). Solid reminders of good dungeon design.

    Image: YouTube

  • What people actually say before they die

    We all know the stories of profound deathbed dying words by famous folks. Beethoven's "Friends applaud. The comedy is over." Emily Dickinson's "I must go in, for the fog is rising." Bogart's "I never should've switched from Scotch to martinis." Josephine Baker's "You young people act like old men. You are no fun." Steve Jobs' "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow." And my all-time fave: Oscar Wilde's "This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go!" (or similar).

    Of course, many of these are likely apocryphal. Culturally, we seem to have a need for finding profundity in the final words of influential people.

    But what do most people say in their final moments? That was the question that Lisa Smartt wanted to answer. She embarked on this project after her father had died and she'd sat by his bedside in his final days and recorded all of his words. From there, she went on to analyze the linguistic patterns of 2,000 utterances from 181 dying people, including the words of her father. The results is her 2017 book, Words on the Threshold.

    In this Atlantic piece, Michael Erard looks at Smarrt's book and several others that deal in the truth and fiction of final words.

    So, what are the common things people say? A lot of it is nonsensical, owing to medication, fading physical and neurological function, pain, and so on. But, it sounds like Steve Job's "Oh wow. Oh wow" is right in line with the apparently common "Oh fuck, oh fuck" (or similar). Heartbreakingly, the last words of dying men are often calls to their mother.

    And what were Mort Felix's (Lisa Smartt's dad) last words: "Thank you, I love you, and enough."

    Read the full piece here.

    Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

  • Here come the Halloween holiday tunes

    "It's the most wonderful time of the year…" It's closing in on October and you know what that means. Everything in the known universe getting pumpkin spiced? Well, yes that, too. But, I'm talking about the YouTube algorithms feeding us Halloween tunes. Here are a couple that bubbled to the top of my front page.

  • Taika Waititi to create pirate comedy for HBO Max

    HBO has ordered a pirate comedy from the prolific and ubiquitous Taika Waititi. To be called Our Flag Means Death, the show will be written by David Jenkins (People of Earth) and Garrett Basch (The Night Of, What We Do in the Shadows).

    Our Flag Means Death is based loosely on the true adventures of Stede Bonnet, a pampered aristocrat who abandoned his life of privilege to become a pirate in the early 18th century.

    Waititi will executive produce and direct the pilot. Jenkins executive produces with Basch and Dan Halsted. Plans are for the first episode to be shot after Waititi finishes production on Thor: Love and Thunder, which he wrote and directs.

    If Waititi, Basch, and Jenkins can do for pirates what What We Do in the Shadows did for vampires, I am all in.

    Read more.

    Image: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

  • One page rules for Warhammer 40K and similar games

    One Page Rules is an initiative to create simple and (mostly) free, miniature-agnostic rule sets for sci-fi and fantasy games. Grimdark Future is their rules for WH40K-like games.

    The basic rules fit on one side of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet with special rules on the back. There are also army lists for the various army types and full rulebook PDFs sold for a modest fee ($5). They also have lines of 2D and 3D miniature designs you can purchase and print out.

    So far, they have large-army sci-fi and fantasy rules, sci-fi and fantasy skirmish rules, a space combat game, and arena combat rules. Cool stuff!

    Here's a run-through of the Grimdark Future rules.

  • How The Mandalorian's Razor Crest spaceship came to life

    Last week, Industrial Light and Magic posted this lovely featurette on the design and making of the Razor Crest spaceship, flown by The Mandalorian in the Star Wars universe.

    There is some really interesting stuff in here, like the fact that the ship was inspired by the A10 Warthog and aluminum planes from WWII. They also wanted the ship to look like it was an old scrapyard special and of pre-X-wing design.

    The heart of the docu is about how they fabricated a 2' long model of the ship and did a number of practical effects shots using it. This isn't something ILM has done for decades. One of the best things about the video is seeing how giddy the digital effects team is over seeing and working with a physical model.

    In this video, former ILM model maker, Adam Savage, talks to some of the team who worked on the Razor Crest model and practical effects.

    Image: YouTube

  • Fabricius, a free machine learning-based Egyptian hieroglyphs translator

    Google's Arts & Culture division has a promising new app, called Fabricius, that uses machine learning to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics. The free app allows you to learn more about hieroglyphics, write them, and to decode them. Besides being a fun educational tool (and a way of sending coded love letters and hate mail), the program holds great promise for the study and instant translation of dead languages.

    In this video, an amateur Egyptologist reviews the app and points out its strengths and its weaknesses.

  • Missing manual for world's oldest surviving computer found

    The long-lost manual for the Zuse Z4, the oldest surviving digital computer has been found.

    The Z4 was the last computer the Nazis invented. Ahead of the Soviet invasion of Berlin, the Wehrmacht evacuated the machine west to Göttingen. It's inventor Konrad Zuse—inventor of the world's first programmable computer, the Z3—completed work on the Z4 in Göttingen but had to move the machine again ahead of the Allies. From there, the Nazis wanted Zuse and his Z4 to move to the Mittelbau Dora, where slaves were building V1 and V2 rockets.

    Zuse refused and escaped South to the small German town of Bad Hindelang. He hid the computer in a barn and waited out the war selling woodcuts to local farmers and American troops.

    After the end of World War II, Zuse became regarded as the father of modern commercial computers and the Z4 was his flagship machine. It was one of the only computers on continental Europe and everyone wanted it. Eventually, the Z4 ended up at the Institute of Applied Mathematics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich where it did calculations for Swiss aviation engineers. It was there, among the historical documents related to planes from the 1950s, that researchers found the Z4's manual just this year.

    Read the rest here.

    Image: Clemens Pfeiffer/Wikimedia and E-manuscripta

  • Wes Anderson's "artful homage" in The Grand Budapest Hotel

    In this video, filmmaker Thomas Flight does a side-by-side comparison between Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel and a number of films he was "heavily influenced" by, mainly Bergman's The Silence and Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. Flight generously calls it "artful homage."

    As he points out, one cool effect is how Anderson often makes clever referential changes to the previous film's scenes and pays scenes off in unexpected ways. The effect of this is to place the two films in conversation with one aother and to defy the expectations of the viewer.

  • Five techniques for beginning miniature painters

    In this Squidmar Miniatures video, Emil runs through five painting techniques he wished had been better emphasized when he was first learning.

    They are the basics (base coating, layering, dry brushing) and two slightly more advanced techniques (edge highlighting and wet blending).

    Not much that's revelatory here for anyone familiar with miniature painting, but there are some worthwhile tips (use a big brush for base coating, use a wet palette, use cheap makeup brushes for dry brushing) and Emil's usual clear and engaging style of presentation.

  • Your terrifying reading for today: Wargame designer outlines 4 post-election civil war scenarios

    I'm a wargame designer. I co-developed the first reboot of Axis & Allies and its D-Day edition, made a mythological Risk game called Risk Godstorm, and burned down both the Roman Empire in Gloria Mundi and medieval France in Veritas. I write about game theory learned from simulating war outcomes. Like many people, I'm stuck on this as the likely outcome of our situation:

    We're facing a civil war.

    Up until yesterday, I wasn't thinking a civil war was probable. But then Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. With her likely went the last chance the 2020 election will end peacefully.

    An overreaction? Maybe. We'll see. In the meantime, it's definitely a good idea to be thinking about, debating, and preparing for different scenarios that many come to pass.

    Read the full piece here.

    And here's Fareed Zakaria outlining the likely election night nightmare that could trigger such a scenario (where Trump wins on Nov 3, a so-called "Red Mirage," then the mail-in votes are counted, and Biden wins, in a "Blue Shift").

  • Paranoid at 50: Celebrating the balm for "beaten-down listeners" in Black Sabbath's classic record

    In this Joe Sweeney Guardian piece on the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath's second album, Paranoid (released on September 18, 1970), he pays touching personal tribute to the record and how it got him through Catholic school.

    I've never felt more alone than when I was walking those halls, my white dress shirt littered with streaks of black and red ink. It seemed like all I had was my Walkman, which I would blast at top volume, searching for understanding. I found it all over Paranoid, an album that stuck up for the downtrodden while spinning ominous hooks into delirious, rampaging jams. I didn't know that I was listening to the band that introduced this specific form of hard rock alchemy to the mainstream. I just knew that it made me feel better.

    Like him, I too was an awkward Catholic kid who used to steel myself against the indignities of high school each morning by blasting Sabbath and Led Zeppelin into my brain before heading to the bus stop.

    Sweeney also foregrounds the working-class Birmingham roots of the band and the unappreciated influences of that upbringing.

    Geezer Butler, Sabbath's bassist and main lyricist, may have had the most fully formed political opinions of the group, but they all understood what it meant to struggle, growing up in postwar Birmingham, a city haunted by the aftermath of 77 Nazi air strikes that killed more than 2,000 people. Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne grew up with undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD in a row house with no toilet, wandering through the ruins of bombed-out homes, dropping out of school at 15. Guitarist Tony Iommi also dropped out at 15, only to cut off the tips of two fingers on his last day of a welding job, forever altering the way he played. Butler grew up in a strict Catholic household and "didn't realise that people had hot water" in other neighbourhoods. Drummer Bill Ward learned his craft at a young age because the guy who set up a kit at his parents' house parties was often too drunk to break it down at the end of the night.


    These Dickensian realities shaped Sabbath's sound in ways that would make them notably different than the hundreds of other bands melding blues and psychedelia in 1970. Perhaps the most famous moment of Paranoid can be traced back to Tony Iommi's workplace catastrophe. He achieved his uniquely deep guitar sound by tuning the instrument down a half-step, which made the strings looser and therefore easier on his injured fingers. (Iommi further blunted the pain by wearing form-fitted "thimbles" made out of melted plastic.) Hence, we get the groaning siren of doom that is the opening note-bend to Iron Man – a fascinatingly economical bit of mood-setting that communicates a sense of dread more effectively than a thousand arpeggios.

    Read the rest of the piece here.